Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms this week recognized Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Joel Baker for his service to the City of Atlanta. After three years serving as fire chief and 30 years with the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, Baker will retire today.
As fire chief, Baker oversaw the State’s largest fire rescue department with 35 fire stations, more than 1,000 sworn and civilian employees, serving an area of 132 square miles within the city limits of Atlanta.
“I want to thank Chief Joel Baker for his commitment and tireless service to the City of Atlanta and the men and women of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department,” said Mayor Bottoms. “Chief Baker has served the department with honor and distinction, and I wish him the best in his retirement.”
During his tenure, Baker led the effort to ensure that the AFRD maintained its ISO Class 1 rating and international accreditation by the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He also led the development and management of department initiatives including the Atlanta Emergency Preparedness Institute and Citizens Fire Academy.
“It has been an honor to serve as Fire Chief for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department,” said Chief Baker. “As a child who was born in Grady Homes housing projects, raised in the Peoplestown community, and a proud graduate of the Atlanta Public School system, serving the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department for more than 30 years has been a privilege.
“I would like to thank former Mayor Kasim Reed and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for allowing me to serve the wonderful citizens of Atlanta and the brave women and men of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department,” he continued.
Baker began his professional fire service career with the City of East Point Fire Department in 1986. A native of Atlanta, he earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources and policy studies from Georgia State University and a master’s of public administration degree in justice administration from Columbus State University. He also completed Harvard University’s Senior Executive Education in State and Local Government program.
In 1988, he joined the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, where he has held the following positions: Firefighter/Paramedic, Fire Lieutenant in Field Operations and the Atlanta Fire Training Academy, Captain to the department’s Hazardous Material/Technical Rescue Unit, Section Chief – Office of Professional Standards, and Assistant Chief to the Office of Support Services.
As Assistant Chief in 2008, Baker was instrumental in the management of the department’s $86 million budget in addition to the development and implementation of the department’s budget reduction strategies.
In August 2009, he was appointed interim fire chief, making critical decisions related to employment reduction, station de-commissioning consideration, and challenged morale.
Baker was appointed Chief of Staff in June 2010. In this role, he directly managed critical sections such as Assessment and Planning, Capital Projects, Homeland Security, Office of Professional Standards, and the Public Information Office.
This leadership role required coordination with City Council, the City of Atlanta Law Department, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, local business leaders, and Neighborhood Planning Units.
In July 2012, Chief Baker was reassigned as deputy fire chief of Airport Administration at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (HJAIA). At the “World’s Busiest Airport,” serving an average of 200,000 passengers daily, Baker was responsible for providing unparalleled Fire Protection, EMS, and other emergency services to the HJAIA community.
His division’s infrastructure included 244 fire personnel (227 sworn and 17 civilian), five fire stations, 49 front line response vehicles (aircraft and structural), and six auxiliary response vehicles. He was named Interim Fire Chief in January 2015. He was named fire chief in June 2015.
Chief Baker was responsible for achieving Operations Initiatives that are instrumental to the success of the department both internally and externally. Positioned under three of the six Organizational Priorities (Emergency Preparedness and Response, Customer Service, and PIER – Public Information, Education, and Relations) are the following internal measures: Insurance Service Office Class Rating, Target Hazard Identification/Preplanning, the Center for Public Safety Excellence Accreditation, and 2011-2012 Annual Report. External measures include the Atlanta Emergency Preparedness Institute, Citizens Fire Academy, website enhancements, and public service announcements.
Recognizing the importance of community service, Baker also served as an Advisory Board Member on the State of Georgia Local Government 9-1-1 Authority, Chairperson of the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Working Group, Board Member for the Safe America Foundation, Advisory Board Member for the Columbus State University Command College, and Board of Trustee Member at Kelly Chapel United Methodist Church.
First Deputy Chief Randall Slaughter will serve as Interim Fire Chief.
“I am honored and humbled that Mayor Bottoms has placed her trust in me to serve as Interim Fire Chief for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department,” Slaughter said. “Growing up in Atlanta and being a proud graduate of the Atlanta Public Schools system has afforded me the opportunity to see how this great city has grown and progressed over the years.
“I will be leading some of the bravest firefighters and brightest civilian support staff anywhere in the world,” he added. “My pledge is to always do my very best to represent the department and city well, and to ultimately ensure that citizens and visitors continue to enjoy the outstanding level of service that they have come to expect from the department and its firefighters.”