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VIDEO: North Dakota firefighters participate in controlled burn

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The Grand Forks Fire Department was setting fires instead of putting them out Thursday.

The Fire Department hosted the North Dakota International Association of Arson Investigators conference this week.

Firefighters and fire investigators from all over the state participated in a controlled burn of a shipping container behind the Public Safety Center.

UND's aerospace department was invited to use its drones to gather data after the burn. Companies Ease Drones, ISightRPV and Vidar also flew unmanned aircraft at the event.

This is one of the first steps the fire department and university have taken to see if this kind of technology would be beneficial to both entities, said city Fire Marshal Rodney Freitag.

The fire was started shortly after 9:30 a.m., and firefighters let it burn until red and yellow flames licked the outside of the shipping container.

After the fire was started, three drones flew overhead, analyzing air quality and taking video.

"Anything that can help document a fire is a benefit," said Chad Campanell, a certified fire investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, D.C. Campanell taught a class for the conference after the burn.

Grand Forks Fire Chief Gary Lorenz said that drones very well could be a part of the department's response team in the future.

Paul Snyder, a professor in the aerospace department at UND, was stationed in the Rapid Deployment Airspace Management Vehicle. He was using counter-UAS technology, meaning from the truck he could monitor the airways and see other aircraft in the vicinity.

"This is going to create more questions and get people's creative juices flowing," Snyder said.

The kind of counter-UAS technology the university uses is also used in prisons, so guards can monitor if contraband is being dropped inside and where it is coming from.

"We're all still learning, but this was a huge success," Snyder said. "I want to introduce this to students as soon as we can in the curriculum."

Director of Operations at Ease Drones Brent Eliason said that Thursday's exercise was a good way for the Fire Department to form relationships with the drone companies and the university.

"It shows that we can all communicate together," Eliason said.

The fire marshal echoed his sentiments.

"I'm pumped," Freitag said. "This opened a door for what we can accomplish in the future, maybe we'll have one of our own soon."