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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

Equal Terms?

firefighters
Firefighters

In 1992 Captain Katie Maughan published the results of a questionnaire and interviews done with women in the Seattle Fire Department. The 69 women provided input on changes needed to safety equipment, facilities, promotions, mentoring, and more. Recruitment proved to be an important issue, and sexual harassment, facilities and protective gear and uniform clothing were identified as problems. Beers requested a transfer to a "downtown" company in October 1992. She analyzed the officer positions in the five busiest engine companies in the Department and noted that none of them had any women; she felt as though this limited her career opportunities. "It is important when you move up the career ladder to have 'downtown' or 'busy' company experience. This experience directly reflects your image as a proficient officer," she said.

Among the anonymous comments were:

  • "Allow women firefighters to work together….The biggest disservice this Department does to women firefighters is refusing to let women work together."
  • "Make a hard line approach to holding all Officers, including Battalion Chiefs, accountable for maintaining a hostile free work environment."
  • "...place women in busy fire stations, fireboats, etc. In order for peers to fully accept women firefighters, it must first come from management."

Molly Douce
Molly Douce

In 1994, Seattle's Public Safety Committee, chaired by City Council Member Margaret Pageler, met with the Fire Department leadership to address the concerns raised in the questionnaire. The resulting work plan included increased recruitment activity, Department-wide training on sexual harassment, a schedule for upgrading facilities to accommodate women, and ensuring that firefighting protective clothing to fit women was available within 30 days.

In 1999, the Seattle Women's Commission conducted a longer survey that incorporated the 1993 questions. In the time that elapsed between the two surveys, more women felt that Recruit School prepared them better for their job. Clothing and facilities improved. In general, women firefighters starting out in 1999 seemed better prepared for what lay ahead of them. However, there was an increase in the number of women reporting harassment in the 1999 survey.

fire truck
Fire truck

In 1998, Initiative 200 was passed in the state of Washington, banning ethnic and gender preferences in hiring; subsequently, the percentage of women recruits declined. Nationally women constituted less than 2.5% of professional firefighters in 2005. In 2000, there were only 11 women fire chiefs in the United States; one of those was the Chief in Tacoma. In two recruit classes in 2007 in Seattle, only one woman was hired. That woman was Annie Olson who grew up in Quinault. In an interview she said she doesn't feel special-she sees herself on equal terms. Hired over about 2,500 other people who applied for the job, Olson said, "I don't really look at it like I was the only girl."

Women had shown from 1975 through 2008 that one factor remained equal between the sexes, and that was motivation. It was no longer a question of whether or not women could do the job. As of 2008, 93 of the 1,038 firefighters in Seattle were women, close to 9% and much higher than the national average. Women were working in all areas of the Fire Department, as paramedics, dispatchers, and fire marshal inspectors, as well as firefighters.

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