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Edward D. Reuss
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When Thelmetria Michaelides (known to her friends and colleagues as Mimi) began working in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Fire/EMS Department in July 1987, she was focused on her goals. She was certain she wanted to work in the law enforcement branch of the department, and her ultimate aspiration was to become a fire investigator and work in the bomb squad. She was keenly aware, however, that the road to achieving that would not be an easy one and recognized that, because she is a black female, she would confront a number of obstacles.

Mimi began her career as a dispatcher for six months and progressed through the various positions of the emergency medical service resulting in her acquiring the position of Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic. She focused her interest on cross training because she knew it was vital in achieving her desired goal, and she went to recruit school for the necessary training.

In order to qualify to join the bomb squad, Mimi did her research and learned what she had to do to reach her desired career destination. At that time, the squad was comprised of all males. She received no support from her peers.  Some told her that she would first have to be a Hazard Materials Technician even though the requirement was not listed on the job announcement. Thus, she went to school for Hazmat training and completed the course. She became a Bomb Assistant , which enabled her to drive a bomb truck to the scene of an incident; however, she still was unable to deal with explosives. 

It soon became obvious to Mimi that colleagues were attempting to discourage her from pursuing her goals, and she felt that males in the department were trying to suppress her efforts that she claims only made me stronger.  She says, “I knew I could do this.”

                                                Thelmetria Michaelides
Photo Courtesy of Prince George’s County, Fire/Ems PIO

 Mimi attended the Prince George’s County, Maryland Police Academy for twenty-nine weeks.  Following completion of the academy, she attended a five-week FBI bomb school in Huntsville, Alabama. It was an intense course, and law enforcement personnel throughout the United States were in attendance; she was the only one there from Prince George’s County, Maryland. While at this school, Mimi had no idea that she needed to possess a knowledge base concerning electronics. No one had previously informed her of that fact , and she knew nothing about the subject matter. Prior to attending this school, she had vocalized her concerns regarding the lack of preparedness but her efforts were to no avail. Determined to overcome this obstacle, Mimi studied constantly nights, weekends, and before class.  She met a police officer at the school that recognized her noticeably high level of motivation, and the officer was kind enough to tutor her.  Mimi states,  “Every time someone knocked me down, I picked myself up, and it just made me stronger and motivated me more. I was tough.” 

Though she remained steadfast in her determination, Mimi was isolated from others at the training. There were only two other females in her class; one was from a federal police department, and the two of them became friends.  Mimi did all she could to learn the requisite skills and obtain the necessary knowledge to perform the required tasks. She successfully completed the school and became a full-fledged Bomb Technician that enabled her to handle explosives and detonate Incendiary Explosive Devices (IEDS) .  She notes,  “One thing I did I always pulled my own weight.”

In Prince George’s County, Maryland the only bomb squad is in the fire department, and Mimi is the only female on the squad.  As a fire investigator, her job is to determine the cause of fire and point of origin. Serving on the bomb squad, Mimi has arrest powers and can make arrests on arson and bomb threats. Despite her law enforcement role in the fire department, she continues to ride the medic unit sixteen hours per month to retain her certification as a medic.
Within the squad, her colleagues have discovered she is no slouch. By proving herself, she became accepted by her peers. Through her determined efforts, she exhibited a high degree of passion for her field, and she always maintained the proper attitude despite obstacles that she was continually faced with.

Though she is in a male-dominated branch of the fire department, the bomb squad--Mimi critically understands the need for change in that area.  Consequently, Mimi asks, ” What are we going to do to get more females involved in specialty units.  She makes a real effort to engage women to become involved in fire investigations and serve in the bomb squad. She sends a clear message that women can get involved in the law enforcement sector of the fire department. She says,  “They can’t keep us (females) out because one got in”

Mimi has always maintained a can do attitude, and she never whined or complained despite the hindrances she encountered.  She constantly asked questions and always took notes to enhance her knowledge.

Mimi has had a lot of  firsts in her career. She was one of the first four black female paramedics in the fire department. She was the first black female dispatcher, and she is the first black female bomb technician in the history of the fire department.  Major (Acting) Chauncey Bowers understands the versatility that Mimi has demonstrated in various positions. He states, “She has demonstrated the ability to function at a high level in about every aspect of the department. In several of the disciplines she was a groundbreaker.”

Thelmetria (Mimi) Michaelides has been an inspirational role model to females in the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department as well as females in other departments.
Her steadfast determination sets an example for them to realize that they, too, can achieve their anticipated desires to work in the law enforcement arm of the fire service.

Mimi’s career has been one that has tested her in many ways, but she decisively knew what she wanted to do and she did not let anything or anyone hold her back.  The resistance she encountered in her journey only served to fuel her determination and desire to achieve her ultimate law enforcement goal of serving on the bomb squad with accompanying arrest powers. In summing up her own career, Mimi states, “It has been a task. I just enjoy doing what I do.  I sure would do it all over again, and I’d take a whole flock of people with me.” 

Copyright 2006 Karen L. Bune

***Karen L. Bune is a Victim Specialist/Legal Assistant in the domestic violence unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office for Prince George’s County, Maryland.  She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant on victim issues.  Ms. Bune is a Fellow of the Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and is Board Certified in domestic violence. She can be reached at Kbune@gmu.edu









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