Desiderio Tristan, a training specialist with the Brownsville Fire Department, has been flying radio-control helicopters for years.

Desiderio Tristan, a training specialist with the Brownsville Fire Department, has been flying radio-control helicopters for years.

When he became BFD’s drone pilot, the switch was easy, he said.

That is because drones are fully automated and can hover — something the RC helicopters Tristan grew up with could not do.

“They’re like a first-person video game. Once people realize how easy it is to fly one, a lot more people may start purchasing them,” Tristan said.

While flying a drone can be fun, there is a practical reason BFD uses them. In addition to being able to survey a fire, the drone can detect the temperature of the flames and be used during public events for patrol purposes.

One of the first situations BFD used a drone for was a recovery mission for a drowning victim on South Padre Island.

“We asked the Coast Guard for permission to use the drone and it was amazing how much it helped us,” Tristan said.

The drone was also used when El Jardin Hotel in downtown Brownsville caught fire in January. Initially, the water was missing hot spots by about two feet, but the crews were able to adjust their aim thanks to the drone’s surveillance.

When BFD first started using drones, Tristan used his personal drone, a DJI Phantom 3. When firefighters used it to save a resident’s house, he offered to help them pay for a new drone that would belong to BFD.

The drone they purchased about a month ago, thanks in part to this donor, was the DJI Matrice 200. It is a top-of-the-line drone with dual-camera systems, thermal capabilities, dual-batteries and a dual-computer system. The Matrice 200 is designed not to fail.

“We’re one of the first in the nation that has this platform,” Tristan said.