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Helping People From the Beginning

Russ Middleton is new deputy chief of city's fire department.

Alexandria Fire Department's new Deputy Chief, Russell G. Middleton, never doubted what he wanted to do for a lifetime career. At 18 he began his firefighting career with the U.S. Air Force. He has been on that path ever since.

His last duty station in the military was Andrews Air Force Base. "My separation date was May, 1978. But I came to Alexandria and began with the fire department on March 27, 1978. I had leave acquired so I used it to go to Fire Recruit School," Middleton said.

While in the U.S. Air Force, Middleton served in Southeast Asia and Korea on crash rescue. His first assignment with the Alexandria Fire Department was as a firefighter with Truck 55, now Station 205.

When the department established its paramedic unit in 1979, Middleton was one of the first cross-trained EMS/firefighters. "We specialized in cardiac techniques, intravenous therapy and drug administration," he said.

One of those influenced by Middleton to become a paramedic was Lisa Jones, now EMS/Paramedic Supervisor. "I've known him for 20 years. It was Russ who brought me into the department 16 years ago. If it hadn't been for him I wouldn't be here today," she said.

In 1981, Middleton was promoted to lieutenant and assigned as a swing lieutenant, to Stations 203 and 207. In that role he also performed the duties of an acting captain. That rank became permanent in 1985.

For the next 13 years, Captain Middleton was involved in a host of duties ranging from various elements of fire administration to becoming certified in Hazardous Materials [HazMat] operations. Finally in 1999, Middleton was named a Battalion Chief and assigned to administration where he has dealt with budget, personnel, supplies and facilities maintenance.

When Deputy Chief James T. Gower decided it was time to retire recently after 40 years service, Middleton had the experience, knowledge and insights to take over that role, according Alexandria Fire Chief Gary Mesaris. "He brings a very exceptional and unique set of skills to the job. With him in this job we can continue to move this department forward," Mesaris said.

That was buttressed by Middleton's predecessor. "More than anything, Russ is a man of character. He is always objective and analytical. He has participated in solving a lot of problems we've faced over the years," Gower said.

"He is very smart and can accurately evaluate situations. He has an excellent background and has attended more schools dealing with all phases of fire training and administration then anyone I know," Gower added.

IN ADDITION TO his technical skills, Middleton has served as backup to Jane Malik, fire department Public Information Officer. "He is very thorough and organized. He also does a lot of informal mentoring. He's an excellent steward to others," Malik noted.

Those talents were further heralded by Barbara Gordon, Public Information Officer, City Manager's Office. "I Have worked with Russ on several projects as well as at fire scenes. In addition to the critical work he does for the fire department, he is an excellent ambassador for the city. I've always been impressed by his professionalism, commitment and teamwork," she said.

A native of Queens, N.Y., Middleton spent his youth in the same house in that Borough of New York City as the youngest of three children. "My sister still lives in Queens," he said.

Today, he and Debra, his wife of 31 years, live in Montgomery County, Md. They are the parents of five children, three girls and two boys. "The oldest two are married and we have two grandchildren," he said.

Middleton's 90-year-old mother moved from Queens to be near the family. She resides in an assisted living facility, according to Middleton.

AS FOR HIS evaluation of the new position, Middleton said, "I'm looking forward to further enhancing the lives of those who live and work in Alexandria. So many things have to be done in training since 9/11.

"It's very necessary to continue to improve the cooperation throughout the region. No matter where you live in Northern Virginia you will get the help you need immediately from the quickest and closest units. We are looking at developing more areas of cooperation with departments in surrounding regions."

Middleton cited regional training for command officers and the constant practice of all elements of emergency operations. "We have monthly meetings to increase Northern Virginia cooperation and preparedness," he pointed out.

Locally, it is his and Chief Mesaris' goal "to make the department the very best it can be." In that vain, Middleton pointed to Alexandria's new rescue team and a new tower truck that will officially go into service on July 19 at Station 203. "It has a 100-foot reach with a bucket that makes it far more desirable when attempting to rescue people from a great height," he explained.

His vision is to "forge all the various entities of the department into a comprehensive unit through cooperation and coordination. If that takes place to the best possible degree, I'll feel successful in my role as deputy chief," Middleton said.

Twenty six years ago a young U.S. Air Force firefighter joined the ranks of the Alexandria Fire Department. His driving force was, "I liked to be able to help people. Firefighting is an area where you can see the results of your actions right away."

That desire "to help people" in myriad ways remains at the heart of Russell G. Middleton's dedication to the city and people of Alexandria. And most particularly to his fellow firefighters, whom he now serves as deputy chief.