Two dozen employees honored as DAQ Team of the Year for Western Wildfire response

Author: Jill Warren Lucas

DAQ Director Mike Abraczinskas (center) and Deputy Director Michael Pjetraj (far left) congratulate members of the 2017 DAQ Team of the Year (Larry Goodwin photo).


The Asheville Regional Office and 14 additional Division of Air Quality employees were honored June 14 as DAQ Team of the Year for efforts related to air impacts from wildfires that consumed more than 80,000 acres of state and federal forest land in November.

The Western Wildfire Team was recognized during the division’s annual appreciation event at the N.C. Museum of History. Its scope of work included enhanced air quality forecasting in more than 30 wildfire areas; deployment of three mobile fine particulate monitors; collaborating with the U.S. and N.C. Forest Service; and a stepped-up public outreach campaign, including participation in a Joint Information Center run by USFS.

“At the height of the disaster, people worked around the clock to monitor conditions and inform residents and responders, allowing both to make smart decisions about exposure to potential health and safety hazards,” said DAQ Director Mike Abraczinskas, who was involved in his former capacity of deputy director. “Their dedication demonstrates DAQ’s unwavering mission of protecting and improving air quality for the citizens of our state.”

Four teams were nominated for the honor by peers for DAQ projects completed in 2016. Review and selection was conducted by a team of peers and kept secret until the awards ceremony.

Asheville Regional Office Supervisor Brendan Davey led the Western Wildfire Team, which included his 10-member staff. The office covers 14 western counties, several of which were directly affected by raging wildfires. Smoke from the event affected air quality in Charlotte, Raleigh and beyond.

Local efforts were supported at the Central Office by Assistant Secretary (then DAQ Director) Sheila Holman; electronics technicians Novelet Cox, Johnny Doctor, John Eagle, Pernell Judd and Roger Locklear; meteorologists Bradley McLamb, Elliott Tardif and Nick Witcraft; Jim Bowyer, Reedy Creek lab supervisor; Paul Chappin, environmental chemist; Wanda Hughes, safety and training officer; and Tom Mather, now-retired PIO.

Other nominees for DAQ Team of the Year include:

  • SO2 Data Requirements Rule (DRR) Modeling Team: Staff from the Air Quality Analysis Branch was tasked with using dispersion modeling analyses to characterize current air quality in areas with large sources of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The challenging project involved in-depth investigations into historical operations and collaborations with multiple partners, as well as late revisions to satisfy revised federal guidelines. Modeling analyses were also used to identify monitoring locations at at four DRR-subject facilities.
  • SO2 Data Requirements Rule (DRR) Implementation Team: Staff worked within a very tight timeline to establish monitoring stations for facilities that chose to monitor compliance with NAAQS rather than use modeling. A series of complex challenges had to be accomplished in just nine months, and everyone on the team stepped up. All DAQ-operated sites were operational before the Jan. 1 start date.
  • It’s Our Air – Development and Implementation Team: The N.C. Air Awareness team developed an engaging curriculum for high school teachers eager to bring the science of air quality to life in the classroom. The inquiry-based program, more than two years in the making, aids students in better understanding the science and technology that helps explain, monitor, predict and protect air quality.


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