2 female bomb techs flaunt police powers in fire, EMS
Their professional roles mix physical strength, mental tenacity, seasoned knowledge, polished skills and substantial risk
Out of uniform and in any setting outside their work environments, many might be hard pressed to correctly guess the occupation of Thelmetria (also known as Meme) Michaelides and Tiffanye Wesley. Attractive, feminine and well spoken ladies, the roles they play in their professional lives comprise a mixture of physical strength, mental tenacity, seasoned knowledge, polished skills and substantial risk. As female bomb technicians with full police powers, they represent a rather small percentage of their gender in the field.
Both are sworn law enforcement officers and have gone through official law enforcement training. As bomb technicians in the National Capitol Region, they both are employed by the fire/EMS departments in their local jurisdictions. They are called upon to conduct investigations, collect evidence and testify in court. Their cross training in both firefighting and law enforcement makes them valuable entities in their respective localities.
Thelmetria (Meme) Michaelides, Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department:
Meme, 45, began her career 24 years ago when she joined the Prince Georges County Maryland Fire/EMS Department on July 5, 1987. She attended college at the University of the District of Columbia at the time, and she had always wanted to be a doctor but was recruited for the department. She continued her studies and ultimately received a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Science after switching from General Studies.
Meme began her career as a dispatcher followed by an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic, and she cross trained as a firefighter after taking an eight week accelerated class through a pilot program. She subsequently applied for fire investigations and was chosen to attend the 29-week police academy where she learned the fundamentals of law enforcement and the laws enabling her to be an Arson Investigator.
“I started taking classes—all kinds of classes. They were outside the fire department and inside the fire department as well. Being a firefighter gave me more mobility. It gave me more choices,” Meme said. All the while, she kept her eye on the bomb squad. “I was just fascinated to see this group. Why don’t they have females on the squad?” she asked.
In 2001, Meme was selected to be on the Bomb Squad. “I felt like this is something that’s going to be challenging for me. “I love challenges,” Meme said. Through her experience on the Bomb Squad, Meme believed she could provide guidance to other females. “Maybe this would make way for other females,” Meme said.
She began as a trainee and attended drills on her own time. In 2004, she went to Bomb School. Throughout her training, a retired member from the squad gave her advice. “A lot of things were difficult for me,” she said, and she noted the electronics portion of the learning process was difficult. “When I was in bomb school in Huntsville, Alabama, a police officer from Pittsburgh helped me through it. Her training there lasted five weeks, and she learned about electronics, explosives, simulators, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and how to do x-rays and read x-ray devices. She also learned how to attach and disconnect wires and how to use the equipment. “I got my first pipe bomb call after the first week out of school. I was nervous. You don’t know if it’s real or a hoax and have to treat every call as real,” Meme said. Possessing full police powers, Meme discovered being a bomb technician was satisfying. “It met my expectations,” she says.
She admitted that a bomb technician must be able to be encapsulated in the heavy suit and helmet that weights approximately 125 pounds. “If you cannot stand to be encapsulated, it won’t work. You’re going to have to wear that suit at some point,” Meme said. Additionally, it is important for a bomb tech to be physically fit. She works out daily which also serves as her outlet to relieve stress.
Meme is married to a firefighter, George Michaelides, who is a Major in the same department, and he supports her 100%. “He’s like my backbone. My kids keep me going and George, as well,” Meme said. Her three daughter are ages 4, 10, and 25; her son is 18.
“The one thing I really do like about it (being a bomb technician) is that now you have a female that has accomplished what I needed to. I really do think more females should apply,” she said.
Meme has proven she can multi-task. Throughout her career, she has kept pace with being a medic, firefighter, bomb technician, and worked in fire investigations-- all at the same time. In addition, she has engaged in community outreach at the schools with the Explorers program.
In the little spare time she has, she enjoys sewing, decorating, and travel. Reflecting on her career and where she is today, Meme seems to have no regrets. “If I had to do it all over again, I sure would—with a smile,” she says.
Tiffanye Wesley, Arlington County Fire/Ems Department, Arlington, Virginia
Tiffanye Wesley, 40, has been employed by the Arlington County Fire/EMS Department for 17 years. Prior to beginning her public safety career, she worked in hotel/restaurant management. After hearing a radio announcement, she applied to Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue. The advertisement and thought of a career motivated her to enter the fire department. “It sounded like something that would be stable and provide a good income and the challenge,” Tiffanye said. A week before graduation, however, she failed a repelling evolution. “I was crushed,” Tiffanye said.
She subsequently applied to the Arlington County (Virginia) Fire Department and began the 22-week academy there in 1994. “I was mentally and physically prepared by then,” she said. Her class had six females in it, and she was the last one. She cross-trained as a Firefighter/EMT and applied for other positions as well. She later became an instructor at the training academy and was there for two years. “I loved it,” she said. “I felt like I always had to do extra to prove I could do the job (being female),” she said.
She met her husband, Eric, in 1999. She was his instructor at the academy, and they later became friends and subsequently married. She has a total of four children ages 3, 14, 17, and 20 but they are not all from this marriage.
As her career in the department progressed, Tiffanye served as a recruiter for the department and travelled to high schools, colleges and other localities out of the area. In 2006, she began working in the Fire Marshall’s Office and had nine weeks of law enforcement training in Petersburg, Virginia to become an investigator. “I wanted to do that. I was always interested in investigating fires,” she said. She served as an Investigator/Inspector in the Fire Marshall’s Office for four years.
In 2009, Tiffany attended bomb school in Huntsville, Alabama for six weeks and learned how to make and diffuse bombs, how to take x-rays, what to look for, how to set up trip wires and she learned about the various types of bomb materials. Besides her, there were two women in attendance.
Of the seven bomb techs within the Fire Department, Tiffanye is the only female. In May 2011, she was called upon for mutual aid assistance in Alexandria, Va. A call was received for a package that came through the mail with peculiar writing on it. The Alexandria (Virginia) Police Department had taken photos that depicted the image of wires.
Tiffanye picked up a brand new bomb truck that her department had just received and drove to the scene where she donned her bomb suit. She had just completed an advanced electronics course that week, and she took her own x-ray. “It was one of those calls that were a little hairy,” she said. After all was said and done, the package turned out to be a regular cell phone and charger.
“I’m doing something a lot of females don’t. I have to keep abreast of what is going on in the world—not just Arlington County. I have to be on my toes. The more you know outside your jurisdiction, the more prepared you are,” she said. She acknowledged the importance of being a methodical thinker as well as the ability to be patient to function as a bomb technician.
In addition, her belief is it is important to be a good researcher. Tiffanye reads a lot of newspapers, email lists, and anything that is terrorist-related. “You almost have to put yourself in the mind of a bomber,” she said. Tiffanye possesses analytical skills and has had terrorism and electronics training; she even had a week of advanced electronics training that she says was difficult for her. Like Meme, she has the necessary physical agility and stamina for the job and agrees, “The bomb suit is very heavy.”
Tiffanye admits the job title itself brings prestige to both her and to the job. She acknowledged that the look on people’s faces is one of amazement when she tells them what she does for a living. “All my friends are very envious of my job,” she says.
Like Meme Michaelides, she alleviates stress by exercising, and she, too, has a supportive firefighter husband. “He’s very supportive and I’m very spiritual,” she said. About Tiffany, his wife, Firefighter Eric Wesley says: “You are my hero because many are called but the chosen are few when it comes to being a bomb tech. When you suit up and go down range, you put it all on the line for the betterment of mankind. That, to me, is a definition of a hero—my hero.”
Tiffanye said she blocks out thoughts of harm that could potentially impact her on the job. “You can’t go in with the attitude you’re going to try to do this. You have to work at it—especially being a female. You have to put forth an effort,” she said.
Born in Temple Hills in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Tiffanye has one sister, who lives in Atlanta, and a brother who resides in Hawaii. Her parents live in Chase City, Virginia. How do they feel about her job? “For the most part, they are very supportive,” she said.
Similar to Meme, Tiffanye is also a busy professional and mother. In addition, she works a second job in the health and wellness business in which she sells nutritional and skin products and reshaping garments. “I really enjoy it. It’s like another step. I’ve seen the effects of extra weight, not taking care of the body and what it can do, and there are a lot of people in need,” she says.
When does she sleep? “I really don’t,” she said. Tiffanye acknowledged she gets about 4-5 hours per night. Her philosophy on life is basic yet meaningful. “I look at life like there’s a testimony in every test. Even in the worst times, there’s always something positive and always a learning experience of what we go through,” she said.
The world of public safety and law enforcement has evolved with the advent of female bomb technicians playing key roles as active participants in fire departments across the country. Though their numbers are not large as yet, they are increasing. “In my day as a bomb tech, it just was not something that was done; fast forward to today’s environment and you see a completely different approach to selection of staff for these investments in community protection. Investing your time and resources to select the highest level of competency should be the driver of selection which means that your organization must be open for all to participate,” says Edward Plaugher, Assistant Executive Director for the International Association of Fire Chiefs and former Fire Chief for Arlington County, Virginia.
Thelmetria Michaelides and Tiffanye Wesley-- two multi-talented professionals housed in fire/EMS departments-- have made their mark in the law enforcement arena as Bomb Technicians. They serve as exemplary role models to inspire, educate, and train others who have the motivation and desire to excel to the ranks of these notable women and to utilize their acquired police powers in either a fire/EMS department or law enforcement agency depending upon the dictate of their localities.