After years working as an actor and cameraman in his family’s film business in Los Angeles, Jay Williams realized he wanted to do something more meaningful. He wanted to help people.

“I was working with Pamela Anderson and other women in bikinis all day long, then I asked myself, ‘What was I doing?’” Williams said about his life in the late 1990s. 

Then a firefighter friend invited Williams to do a ride-along.

“I fell in love with it,” he said. “I love helping people.”

Williams immediately put himself through the fire academy and paramedic certification. In 2002, he got a job with the Torrence, California, Fire Department, which put him on its multimedia team.

“I was able to take my skills and create training videos,” he said. 

When he got married, he and his bride wanted more space and a different environment to raise children. He moved to Williamson County in 2008 and accepted a job offer at Williamson Medical Center. A year later, he joined the Brentwood Fire Department and once again got involved with multimedia productions. He began making public service commercials and training videos along with fighting fires, responding to medical calls, performing fire inspections at local day care facilities and much more. 

“One thing I love about fire service, it’s like fishing: You never know what you’re going to get,” said Williams, who is now a lieutenant with the fire department. “Every single day is different, and there’s always a challenge. You never know what you’re going to get yourself into.” 

About five years ago, Williams approached a couple department chiefs and asked about looking into drones and how they might be able to be used to help people.

“At that time, it was too soon,” he said. 

People immediately thought Big Brother. Since then, drones have become more common. 

Two years ago, Williams tried again, but this time he also reached out to city commissioners and the city manager. His timing was much better, and officials and community members listened with interest as he spoke about what drones can do to help the community and improve services.

Drones open a whole new world in service, he said. In the past, a lost child in Smith Park meant putting many feet on the ground searching. With a drone’s thermal imaging and zoom lens, a child can be found in the densest areas.

Brentwood has a major railroad line that passes through a large section of the city. Williams said that if a tanker tips over, the city can avoid sending firefighters into a dangerous situation by instead using a drone to get visuals of the extent of the spill. A drone during the 2010 flood could have gotten live video of the extent of the flooding and help determine if anyone was stranded. A drone can get visuals of the extent of a large structural fire and a wildfire.

Williams received the go-ahead to create a drone program managed by the fire chief, secure appropriate licenses and develop a team. He was appointed program manager in charge of training and recruiting 10 other drone pilots.

Part 107 of FAA regulations governs unmanned aerial aircraft. 

According to Williams, unmanned aircraft systems team members must go through training and a pilot licensing process that includes numerous hours of training with remote controls and strict adherence to the Privacy Act of 1974. 

“We don’t broadcast films, and we don’t store films,” Williams said. 

The Brentwood Fire Department has 11 pilots and two UAS systems, one with the ability to fly miles away and provide thermal imaging.

“We’re trying to take the fire service to a new level,” Williams said.” Raise the bar 400 feet. This is just another tool in our tool box.”

Carole Robinson may be contacted at


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