Thermal Drones Help Prevent Explosions During Industrial Fire

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KFSM) — Firefighters were able to keep a tank filled with a highly flammable substance from exploding during a massive industrial fire in Bentonville by using special technology.

Unmanning Vehicle Technologies happened to be holding a drone technology demonstration at a Bentonville fire station around the same time Wednesday (Dec. 4) when a massive fire broke out at United Industries.

United Industries is an industrial plant that manufactures plastic products. A portion of their plant caught fire after 11 a.m. sending black smoke into the air.

Andrew McKinney works for Unmanned Vehicle Technologies and was hosting the demonstration when the fire alarms sounded. The demonstration quickly turned into a real-life emergency.

"At that point, we hopped into fire vehicles, drove over and used three aircraft systems there," McKinney said.

McKinney arrived at United Industries with the Bentonville Fire Department and immediately sent the drone to the sky. Each of the three drones served a different purpose. One was able to get a closer look at a large tank filled with a flammable substance similar to propane. Next, another crucial feature was used to keep the tank from exploding.

"Infrared sensors are able to spot temperatures on the tank and direct water streams to help cool the tank as it got hot," McKinney said.

Bentonville Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Boydston said if the temperature of that tank got above a certain degree, the result could be extremely dangerous.

"Our goal yesterday was to cool that tank down and keep it below 125 degrees," Boydston said.

Boydston said through the efforts of firefighters on scene and the drones, the tank stayed below 95 degrees.

"That gave us continual reads on the temperature, so we were able to monitor that the whole time," Boydston said. "We had no release even the relief valves did not activate on that tank."

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