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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

Development of a Pre-Recruit Program


City Council Member Jeanette Williams, as head of the Human Resources and Judiciary Committee in the 1970s, was acutely aware of affirmative action issues. In 1974, Williams responded to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article that questioned the attitude of some in the Fire Department towards women, and asked the Office of Women's Rights to propose "that some type of procedure be set up to check up on this attitude problem…."

recruiting notice
Recruiting notice

Mayor Wes Uhlman and Fire Chief Jack Richards exchanged correspondence in 1974 about bringing women firefighters into the Department. The City considered the possibility of using San Diego as a model; Chief Bell wrote from San Diego that its program was not successful as the first five females were terminated for "lack of required strength." Bell also warned Richards that in addition to the strength and agility issues, "You may also expect considerable reaction from your employees, their wives, and the public which quite probably will put you in a position of extreme criticism and condemnation regardless of what action you take….If you change any existing standards you will be charged with discrimination in favor of females, if you don't you will be discriminating against females."


To become a firefighter in 1975, applicants had to pass a written exam, oral interview, physical abilities test and Law Enforcement Officer and Firefighters (LEOFF) medical standards test. Successful completion of a ten-week recruit school was required as well as a six-month probationary employment period.

Recruiting notice

In 1975, the Seattle Fire Department heeded a 1974 affirmative action report and recruited women specifically to apply as firefighters. Although 125 women took the written exam that first year, only six were admitted to the class in March 1976. Of these, five resigned, citing lack of upper body strength as the reason. The sixth, Lori Lakshas, was dismissed and subsequently filed a discrimination charge.

The Department observed there were two areas of deficiencies for women: physical and mechanical ability. As a result, a female pre-recruit training program was developed with the assistance of Dr. T. Lee Doolittle, a University of Washington kinesiology professor. The first pre-recruit class began in 1977.

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