Cuomo welcomes back NY drone pilots from fighting wildfires

On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo welcomed home a team of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers, staff, volunteers, and two drone pilots of the New York Air National Guard, who have been helping battle and contain wildland fires raging in California, Nebraska, and South Dakota for the past two weeks.

Cuomo welcomes back NY drone pilots from fighting wildfires

The two members of the New York Air National Guard provided mission support with remotely piloted aircraft to detect fire lines and aid in fire control measures while assisting California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California.

“These brave New Yorkers traveled west without hesitation to help battle these historic wildfires that have scorched thousands of acres of land, burned hundreds of thousands of homes, and forced massive evacuations in 13 states,” Governor Cuomo said according to Mid Hudson News. “New Yorkers are tough and always ready to roll up their sleeves whether we’re supporting other states in the response to COVID-19 or helping fight wildfires. I am proud to welcome the team back home and offer my support and well wishes to the new crew of wildland firefighters heading west.”

The two drone pilots are members of the New York Air National Guard – Tech. Sgt. Andrew Pajak, an MQ-9 sensor operator assigned to the 107th Attack Wing in Niagara Falls, and 1st Lieutenant Nicole Clay, an MQ-9 aircraft pilot assigned to the 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse – operated MQ-9 scouting missions for landing zones during the helicopter rescues of 214 people over Labor Day weekend.

The MQ-9s fly at high altitudes and are equipped with special sensors that can see through the smoke. The video footage that these drones provide is used by the fire managers in California to get a better understanding of the situation on the ground.

The MQ-9s are not impacted by high winds and intense heat, help to keep pilots safe, and enable Guard members on the ground to make better response decisions.

Major General Ray Shields, Adjutant General of New York said, “We are always prepared to lend a helping hand and our expertise whenever we’re called upon to assist a state in need, and we’re proud of our personnel and what they accomplished in working with our counterparts in the California National Guard.”

All personnel and travel expenses for the New York crews are either paid directly by the U.S. Forest Service or reimbursed to New York State based on a mutual aid agreement between states and federal land agencies, reports Mid Hudson News.

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