LONG BEACH — It’s a drone’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
At its regular April 19 meeting, the Long Beach City Council authorized the city to purchase a specialized drone for the Long Beach Fire Department that officials expect will be a big help when responding to emergencies, particularly surf rescue calls. It’s one of several other government agencies in Pacific County that is adding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to its roster of tools.
Funds for the drone, which carries a price tag of about $2,500, were already budgeted for in the city’s 2022 budget, according to Long Beach City Administrator David Glasson. The city, Glasson said, was inspired to move forward with the purchase after a recent Observer story detailed how some law enforcement agencies in the county were utilizing the UAVs.
“For a couple of years now we’ve been looking at the possibility of a drone — or drones — for the city of Long Beach. There are many uses for them, but we just didn’t know which was the right drone or what we wanted to do exactly,” Glasson said. “That article on the front page of the Chinook Observer kind of keyed me in on it.”
Glasson said the drone the city is purchasing — the SwellPro Splash Drone 3 Plus — is the same as one of the drones owned by the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, which is able to fly out into the surf — or other bodies of water — and drop a lifejacket or other type of floatation device to a swimmer that’s struggling in the ocean.
“Our biggest problem in the fire department is we’re not surf-trained, we can’t go out and save anybody,” Glasson said. “We’ve got [the remote-controlled rescue] boat, E.M.I.L.Y, but unless you see the person you can’t really deploy it because the battery-life on it is just so short that you can’t really go zipping around looking for them.
The drone would provide surf rescue responders with an aerial view to try and locate the distressed swimmer more quickly, Glasson said, which would provide a more precise location for E.M.I.L.Y. to be dispatched and bring the swimmer in.
Councilors and city officials were cognizant of the privacy issues surrounding drones, but said this drone would be specifically used for fire department operations. Councilors voiced their support for the purchase during the meeting.
“I think the benefits outweigh the cost. I don’t really feel it’s that expensive for what it’s going to be used for,” said Councilor Tina McGuire.
The city doesn’t expect to begin putting the drone in action until this summer, as it works through logistical matters to determine how, when and who will be operating the UAV.
City gives trolley to transit agency
At its first city council meeting of the month, on April 5, councilors also OK’d the sale of the city’s trolley to the Pacific Transit System — for a grand total of $1.
The city opted to gift the trolley to Pacific Transit, Glasson said, because it’s rarely used these days. It was purchased earlier in the 2010s for about $40,000, with the intent of expanding the city’s tourism footprint, by bringing people from Astoria, Ilwaco and other nearby communities to events in Long Beach.
“While we tried that for many years, it never really worked out for us. And so we have a trolley that we rarely use … and Pacific Transit does have an interest in the trolley,” Glasson said.
The sale of the trolley to the transit agency is a sort of tip of the hat to many years ago, when the city purchased a trolley from Pacific Transit for an identical sum of just a single dollar.
“Back in the old, old days, the city of Long Beach rented the trolley for events from Pacific Transit. They owned a trolley — it’s not the current one we have — and it just so happened that one of our mayors was on the board and Pacific Transit was ready to get rid of it, and we were able to get it for $1,” Glasson said.
Pacific Transit officials told the city that it plans to get a lot more mileage out of the trolley than the city was able to, and will use it for a variety of different events up and down the peninsula, especially during the summer.
Long Beach Mayor Jerry Phillips said he talked with Pacific Transit Director Mike Wagner, and that the agency has committed to running the trolley during Long Beach Merchants Association events, as well as possibly teaming up with hotels to provide service to and from events.