Counties test new 'copter

Published 10:34 pm Monday, May 22, 2006

Seat belts buckled, head sets on - ready, set, lift off. Pat Poole was flying high Thursday morning in his Bell OH 58 helicopter, the newest addition to the emergency services arsenal for Escambia and Conecuh counties.
For approximately three weeks, Poole has been taking several orientation flights, which involve getting acquainted with the various municipalities in both counties, setting his radio to specific frequencies and getting on board with all the different law enforcement agencies.
Several Escambia County commissioners, Sheriff Grover Smith and others joined Poole on the vacant field next to the T.R. Miller football stadium.
Thursday was the first opportunity commissioners were given to view the helicopter, something they voted in February to fund for $4,000.
Conecuh County commissioners will be funding $5,000. Commissioners say it's a small amount of money for what can be accomplished.
The helicopter spent some time in Panama City where it underwent an annual maintenance checkup and refurbishment.
Poole will be investing his time, for free, to help both counties conduct any type of emergency disaster search and rescue or drug eradication, as well as conduct aerial surveillance and general patrolling. The commissioners appreciate Poole's generosity, because most pilots who fly for county sheriff's departments are paid nearly $50,000 to $75,000.
According to Poole, the helicopter was donated to the Conecuh County Sheriff's Department through a federal surplus properties program. It will be used by the Emergency Management Agency directors and the sheriff's departments from both counties. The title is registered to the Conecuh County Sheriff's Department under the Conecuh and Escambia Aviation Division.
The helicopter holds 75 gallons of fuel and burns 25 gallons per hour.
Something commissioners from both counties hope the flyovers will alleviate is the illegal dumping. Poole will sit down with all the commissioners and examine a map, which will help identify problem areas, Stokes said.
In fact, the helicopter can accomplish as much in half a day looking at suspected dumpsites, or something as complex as a train derailment, as opposed to sending a patrol car to specified areas.
In addition to both counties funding the use of the helicopter, Poole has been soliciting donations from individuals and businesses to help pay for the maintenance of the helicopter, which totals nearly $40,000 a year.
While the helicopter is not in use, it's being housed at the Evergreen Airport.

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