Michelle Middlebrooks, 49, is a Battalion Chief for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department (AFRD). Atlanta born and raised, she has been with the AFRD for over 20 years and held her current position for almost two. She is only the fourth female in the department to have held the position. Posted at Station 21 on Roswell Road, Michelle oversees the five fire stations in the Buckhead area.
On top of all of that responsibility, she is currently working toward her Master’s in Public Safety Administration from Columbus State University. Like many essential and frontline workers, Michelle’s work didn’t stop when the pandemic hit. “We are more cautious when responding to calls for obvious safety reasons,” Michelle explains. “Firefighters now have to wear more gear: two masks, hazmat suits, two pairs of gloves, etcetera, because we respond to people who are COVID positive.” The total extra weight of the additional fire gear is about 75 pounds.
Positive testing and exposure to the coronavirus has been a huge logistical and health challenge for emergency responders, who are the second-most exposed group after doctors and nurses. The required two-week quarantine time cuts down an already understaffed team who is responsible not just for fires, but also drug-overdoses, car accidents, possible suicides and other major emergencies.
Earlier in the pandemic, Michelle had her own scare with the virus when her aide and right-hand, Keith, tested positive. “I was very worried about him and his family during their quarantine period, but thankfully the next two COVID tests were negative. He’s been back at work and doing fine.”
Community outreach is also a large part of Michelle’s job. She has been involved with one of the department’s newest initiatives called Camp Ignite, a three-day camp that works to educate high school girls interested in becoming firefighters. Michelle enjoys the work because, “[It gives me] the opportunity to define what a firefighter looks like.
“I’m female and extremely feminine. I also want to affect positive change as it relates to gender diversity.” Sadly, like much of the AFRD’s outreach, the program has been canceled for the year. While many services and companies scrambled to find footing in the pandemic, Michelle says one of the most inspiring moments of the pandemic “has been watching the firefighters continue to serve the community without missing a beat.”
Michelle’s favorite places to grab a meal in Buckhead are Maggiano’s Little Italy and Chicken Salad Chick.