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Strength & Stamina: Women in the Fire Department - Home
Early Years: 1883-1915
Fully Manned: 1915-1960
A Man Among Men: 1960-1975
Minority Recruitment and Women
Development of a Pre-Recruit Program
The First Woman Firefighter in Seattle
Early Discrimination
The End of the Pre-Recruit Program
Pregnancy and Disability
Equal Terms?
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Strength & Stamina: Women in the Fire Department

Early Years: 1883-1915

fire fighting
Fire fighting

The City of Seattle was incorporated in 1869 but with no established means to protect the City from "accidents by fire." Provisions in earlier charters were made for regulating markets, burying the dead, and preventing animals from running at large, but fire protection was not added until 1883. That year, the Charter created a fire department and provided for "fire engines and other apparatus, and a sufficient supply of water, and to levy and collect special taxes for these purposes…." Equipment purchases were funded, but not firefighters.


Seattle had seven volunteer fire companies by the late 1880s. Following the devastating Great Fire of 1889, a professional fire department was created with five district fire stations and a fire boat. By 1895 the Department consisted of "sixty two men fully paid and ten men at Fremont partially paid."

In the early years of the Fire Department, there was a thin line between one's personal and work lives. The Department acted as an intermediary when outside debts needed to be paid off, bore in mind reasons for tardiness when assigning demerits, and commonly received letters from landlords and others inquiring about employment status of the firefighters.


By 1909, the number employed in the Seattle Fire Department had grown to "a total of 228 full paid men" and by 1916, the number of those in the "manual force" was 611. A merit system was introduced in 1914 to administer discipline for violation of rules; tardiness was the most common offense.

fire engines
Fire engines
fire wagon
Fire wagon

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