Rio Rancho Fire Department updates toolbox to better save lives

RIO RANCHO, NM – Drones are doing much more than just documenting the work of brave firefighters. Now, they’re helping crews lookout for one another while also saving lives.

Even on the brightest of days, towering flames and thick smoke can make it next to impossible for firefighters to see what they’re doing on the job.

“Our drone operators can be there, right next to our incident commander, you know, giving him a 360 degree view of the entire fire scene. So they can be monitoring things like roof stability, you know, monitor where crews are on the fire scene,” said Rio Rancho Fire Department Cpt. David Hoeksema. “We’re able to show our incident commander on the screen, where to direct our water stream.”

The Rio Rancho Fire Department has only been using a drone since the summer, but says it’s become an invaluable tool for gathering info and helping crews make potentially life-saving decisions in real time.

“Not only on fire scenes, but searches and out in the puerco, and rescues out on the river, and on all sorts of incidents. We’re finding more and more all the time,” said Hoeksema.

With an extra set of eyes in the sky, the possibilities are endless. Plus, these eyes can see way more than any person.

“We’ve got that infrared footage, obviously the white heat there,” Hoeksema said. “The thermal camera is another really cool advantage that we have on this specific drone. We can see through the smoke, so we can be able to see heat and track our personnel, see hotspots and other victims through the smoke that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to see with just a visual camera.”

He says Rio Rancho Fire has three trained drone pilots with plans to add six more in the next year.

“All of our pilots need licenses through the FA, and so that’s a challenge to, you know, getting firefighters to study and pass a test,” said Hoeksema.

But it’s worth it, the battalion chief of training, says just a single $8,000 drone has already been used on a half dozen incidents since July.

“Ultimately provides us a way to ensure the safety of not only our crews, but the public that we’re sworn to protect,” said Rio Rancho Battalion Chief of Training Ryan Floersheim.


But, drones are not the only tool Rio Rancho firefighters are adding to their toolbox to help them look out for the community.

There’s a new bone drill that they say helped them save three lives in just two weeks.

“We have incorporated a new technology into each of our six fire engines that will allow us to provide better medicine to our sickest patients. Patients that are in cardiac arrest, patients who have suffered a traumatic injury, and you need fluid, and we cannot find an external vein,” said Rio Rancho Battalion Chief of Training Ryan Floershiem.

Basically situations where a traditional IV just isn’t gonna cut it. The drill places a small needle directly into the bone.

“We’re able to provide the same life-saving fluid and medication,” said Floersheim.

While most fire departments have this tool in their ambulances, it is a unique addition for fire engines.

But the Floersheim says a necessary one.

“Our department is in charge of transporting all of our medical patients to the hospital. What that ultimately means is that several calls every single day, it’s our fire engines that are showing up first on scene to often times very critical calls,” said Floersheim.

With a drill ready to go in each truck, critical patients no longer have to wait for potentially lifesaving treatment.

“Time is what saves lives,” Floershiem said.

And in this case, all it takes is just 15 seconds. In the two weeks firefighters have had access to this new tool they’ve used it three times.

“Without this technology, those are the patients that we encountered, more than likely would have had much worse outcomes,” said Floershiem.

We had to ask, does it hurt?

“Fortunately, I don’t have first-hand experience but the research shows that it doesn’t actually hurt as bad as you would think putting it in. However, we traditionally reserved this for unconscious or patients who have already passed away,” Floersheim said.

He says the State Department of Health helped them secure $7,000 for the six kits that firefighters have now.

He also says their department is constantly looking for ways to better take care of their community.