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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

Fully Manned: 1915-1960


During World War I, the Chief expressed concern that the Department was not "fully manned." He noted in 1917 that "if the experienced and trained men continue to leave the Department it will surely cripple its efficiency very materially." However, the problem quickly righted itself after the war, as the 611 men on the manual force in 1917 increased to 652 by 1925.

annual report
Annual report

A focus on training methods between the wars formed Seattle's reputation as a model for others in the nation on training. In 1921, a School of Instruction was implemented to "institute uniform and standardized methods for handling equipment and instructing members." Drill work and endurance and physical fitness tests were developed. Testing showed that physical decline coincided with an increase in age. Daily calisthenics were instituted in 1921, and were required for members of each shift for 15 to 30 minutes a day.

A new system of drill school instruction was implemented on September 1, 1934. Instead of practicing four months out of the year and only at downtown stations, the drills were performed all year around at each fire station. Drills were conducted randomly without advance notice so that stations had to be ready at any time.


Down in numbers again because of World War II, the Department made use of the Volunteer Auxiliary in 1943 and 1944. Trained and maintained as a unit of the regular Department, the Auxiliary was thanked by the Chief in his 1943 annual report. "Serving wholly without compensation, and as direct contribution to the war effort, they have donated thousands of man-hours of their own time in order that they may be prepared to defend this city from fires or any other catastrophe."


Men returned to the Department after the war, however, and morale was high. A new 8-hour shift was implemented in 1947, requiring the hiring of a large number of additional firefighters, as well as "intensified training." The 1947 annual report stated that those entering the Department from military service were an asset: "Their enthusiasm carried throughout the organization, and as a result, employee loyalty and morale reached new highs."

Morale continued to be high through the 1950s. Two-way radio capability was introduced in all first-line units in 1950; station wagons accompanied aid cars starting in 1958, enabling stretchers to be transported to hospitals immediately. By 1959 the Fire Department adopted a new fire code based on national standards. They also created a "revolutionary fire fighting curriculum" which was unique to Seattle.

The most revolutionary event of the decade, however, was not mentioned in the annual report. In January 1959, Claude Harris, the first African-American firefighter, joined the Department. In 1985, he would become Fire Chief.

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