Last week, Columbia Fire and Rescue’s hazmat team carefully worked for hours to unload 89,000 gallons of propane from an overturned tractor-trailer on Highway 43.
Emergency services closed a portion of the highway in Columbia, causing commuters from south of the city to find another way home.
Surrounding homes and business were in no immediate danger, but residents were asked to shelter in place as the recovery operations continued throughout the day and into the night.
The driver of the truck was unharmed, and no other vehicles were involved in the accident, authorities said.
As the hazmat team carefully worked to empty the overturned 10-wheeler of the flammable gas, Columbia Fire and Rescue had one of its latest tools offering a view from the sky throughout the extended operation — the department’s steadily growing fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Without the drone, we have to report back what we are seeing, and they need to make decisions based on what we are saying,” said Captain Kris Weber, who oversees the hazmat team. “It is a great tool to make decisions.”
Launched in early 2018, the Emergency Robotics Deployment Team has kept an eye in the sky for the department ever since using both professional and consumer grade unmanned aerial systems capturing footage of residential fires, flooding and now the recent closure of a major state roadway.
“We can have that drone up at all times and giving us a view from above without calling in a helicopter,” Chief Ty Cobb told The Daily Herald.
Jose Periut Jr., a full-time firefighter who has been with the city since 2009, spearheaded the program as its first local pilot certified by the Federal Aviation Commission.
“It allows us to fly over and get an aerial view,” Periut previously told The Daily Herald. “It gives us a different perspective to help out our ground crews below. It allows us to cover more ground faster. That is something we have never been able to do before.”
During last week’s response, the drone served as a constant eye in the sky throughout the operation.
Only after the overturned trailer was emptied of flammable gas and the diesel leak from the engine contained, the cab and the trailer were righted and transported from the scene by Columbia-based D&D Towing.
The scene was eventually cleared at about 2 a.m. the following morning.
The Columbia Police Department, Maury Regional EMS and the Maury County Fire Department were all dispatched to the scene, along with departments from surrounding counties.
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