DRONES kitted out with powerful video equipment and thermal imaging cameras are being used by emergency services in the North-East.

Police and fire crews are now able to scramble two of the state-of-the-art units to fight crime and save lives.

They will be used to provide a live feed to a tablet computer on the ground, giving officers a bird’s eye view from around 120 metres in the air.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) and Durham Constabulary are working together on the new project, which is the first of its kind in the country.

Chief Constable Mike Barton, of Durham Constabulary, said: “The greater use of drones to ensure we can make people safe is a really exciting joint venture.

“They are so agile, produce superb quality pictures and are such good value.”

Two units, with camera gear, capable of taking 10 megapixel stills and 4k video footage, have cost around £26,000 and been funded by the police and fire service.

Five firefighters and three police officers have been trained as pilots, with more training planned by both organisations.

The drones, which have a total range of 5km, will be used in accordance with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) standards and permissions and each pilot’s training reflects appropriate guidance from the CAA.

The project began twelve months ago, when the fire service identified a need for overhead imagery and approached Durham Constabulary who already had a drone.

The two organisations agreed to work together, sharing technology and capability to create the first ever joint Fire and Police Drone Unit.

The new equipment was officially unveiled on Tuesday at the fire service’s training centre in Bowburn, but drones have already been used operationally at a large scrapyard fire and in three missing person searches.

Chief Fire Officer Stuart Errington said: “The drones will capture live overhead imagery which can be instantly streamed to the incident command support unit, as well as thermal imagery to show the ferocity of a fire or searching for people who may be trapped or missing.

“They will also be used for reconnaissance at the scene of an incident, ensuring officers and incident commanders on the ground, can get a real picture of what they are dealing with.”