Infrared drone helps 'find hot spots' amid 3-alarm fire at 'the cheel'

It played a pivotal role in helping firefighters contain the fire at "the cheel" restaurant in Thiensville Sunday, Nov. 8, and on Wednesday, FOX6 News got a behind-the-scenes look at the Ozaukee County Division of Emergency Management's drone program.

The building "the cheel" sat in was originally built in the 19th Century and remodeled several times. Older construction like that can make things challenging for firefighters, as hot spots can hide in the dead space of a building.

That's where the drone comes in, making firefighters' job easier.

Between the heavy blasts of water and foam and sounds of the chainsaw cutting for ventilation, Sunday's three-alarm fire at "the cheel" in Thiensville was met with the full gamut of Ozaukee County's firefighting tools.

"As the technology has proved its worth to the fire chiefs and fire officers, it's getting called much, much quicker and more often," said Scott Ziegler, director of the Ozaukee County Division of Emergency Management.

The program was adopted by the department two years ago. Initially intended for law enforcement, it's grown quickly since then, especially when it comes to fighting fires.

"We can find hot spots that are very small early, and we can pinpoint direct firefighters to those areas where they can get it, where it's a relatively small hot spot before it gets a chance to grow," said Ziegler.

The drones are equipped with regular cameras and infrared technology -- providing crucial real-time data.

FOX6's cameras captured a controlled demonstration showing a lack of high heat at first before a crescendo of flames visible through windows, but when the flames aren't that easy to find...

"You're not wasting a bunch of energy and time searching through areas that aren't necessarily an issue," said Ziegler.

It's a birds' eye, high-tech solution bringing a heightened sense of awareness and efficiency to an already dangerous job.

Currently, these drones are often deployed for visual purposes for law enforcement, and when there are fires and rescues. Zeigler said he doesn't think they're far off from having the drones carry supplies during an emergency, either.