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Typically when people think of the Georgia Forestry Commission, he/she may think of rangers on the ground fighting fire but the Georgia Forestry Commission employs pilots who help fight fire from the sky too.
There are eighteen aircraft, ten full-time pilots and about twenty-three part-time pilots that fly with GFC.
Georgia is divided into sections with pilots assigned to each one. A pilot will fly around twenty counties at a time patrolling for smoke, water quality issues, monitor construction near rivers, help with insect and disease control in forests that GFC manages, help with passenger transportation and assist in law enforcement missions.
Chief Pilot Clay Chatham flies a desk as much as he does a plane.
Chatham says that he loves his job. “I’m one of the few people in the world who can really say that I love it; I’m born for this.”
But like every jobs, there is at least one part he doesn’t like. For Chatham, it’s the paperwork.
Forestry Commission planes fly every day the fire danger warrants a flight. A weather briefing will be done and then a pre-flight inspection walk-through of the plane is done by the pilot before taking off around one in the afternoon.
Forestry pilots fly for one primary mission; Chief Pilot Clay Chatham says that the “primary benefit to what we do is in working with the firefighters on the ground, the safety net that we provide for them, the ability to give them that tactical advantage that they may not have without us.”
Planes typically fly no higher than 1,000 feet off the ground so that the pilot can provide ‘overwatch’. Chatham says that it’s the “ability to look down and see things that the firefighters can’t while they’re in the smoke or in the woods where visibility is low.”
Pilots also look for equipment and people too before ground firefighters and rangers are dispatched.
GFC only employs qualified pilots that have been through proper Federal Aviation and Administration training. Chatham says that he is an advocate for his people and works hard to make sure that his people are properly trained and equipped so that they have the most opportunity to succeed.
Chatham adds that “it’s not about the money, it’s not about anything else, it’s part of who you are and we love to serve the people, we love to help the firefighters on the ground, who are our primary customers. It’s an honor to do it and we wouldn’t do anything else.”
For more information about the Georgia Forestry Commission or their current job openings, head to their website.