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COLUMBUS

Members of the Columbus AgriBusiness Council turned out in full force to show their support of their local fire department and FFA chapter.

The group's annual meeting was held March 15 at Kestral Ridge Golf Club and humorous commentary from Wisconsin best-selling author Michael Perry, introduction of Columbus High School's new ag teacher Glenda Crook who will take over the program this summer and a hefty donation to the Columbus Fire Department.

Jeff Koopmans, treasurer for the Columbus AgriBusiness Council said the group was looking to support a worthy community cause and decided to donate $3,500 to the Columbus Fire Department fundraising campaign to purchase a drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) and equip it with a thermal imaging camera.

'We felt with all of the traffic in and out of the Columbus area, that a drone (for the fire department) was a very worthwhile cause,' Koopmans said.

It took less than two seconds for Columbus Fire Chief Randy Koehn to decide what to purchase with the donation.

'There are so many uses that we can put the drone towards — fighting fires, finding lost or missing persons, hazardous materials incidents where we can send in a drone to get a closer look without putting our firefighters in harms way,' Koehn said. 'This donation means that we can get everything we want in a drone. Without the AgriBusiness Council's support this wouldn't be possible.'

During his presentation, Koehn presented several scenarios in which firefighters face in which a drone would be beneficial including battling large grass fires.

'Sometimes these fires spread to 15 to 20 acres and they're so large we don't know where they are heading. By sending up a drone we can see if any structures are in the path or if the fire has moved onto private property and we need to find a route to get at the fire,' Koehn said.

The drone would be able to provide firefighters with valuable information while fighting structure fires. In the event that a roof would collapse, leaving the walls still standing, Koehn said a drone would help firefighters to send streams of water to flames not visible from below.

By equipping the drone with a second camera — a thermal imaging camera — the device would allow firefighters to see through smoke or detect heat changes valuable in a missing person search.

The drone would also help to keep firefighters safe. Koehn said the movement of hazardous materials through the city at any given time thanks to the proximity of Highway 151 and the Canadian Pacific railway.

The Canadian Pacific railway is one of just two railroads in the state that transport the highly volatile crude oil and there's a lot of it coming through here,' Koehn said. 'If there was a hazardous materials incident, we could fly a drone in there to detect any heat radiating out from the tanker cars, identify the type of material in the car and relay real time communication back to the incident commander. Obviously having a drone instead of sending someone in is a big advantage.'

The drone would also be beneficial during natural disasters as well. Last summer's wind storm downed several trees that block city streets.

'We could send a listing of blocked streets to emergency services so they know which streets are accessible and those that aren't,' Koehn said.

Columbus AgriBusiness Council members also gave a warm welcome for Columbus High School graduate Glenda Crook who will return to her alma mater next fall as the new agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. The district dropped its program last year, but will reinstate it for the 2016-17 school year.

'It feels really good to come back home. I've been teaching at Lodi for the past 19 years but always kept my eye open in case the position in Columbus came open,' Crook said. 'I think the goal of everyone here tonight is to make this a great program once again.'

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