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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 Discrimination


Several early recruits reported that they did not experience discrimination from other firefighters, but from other places. Lori Lakshas was one of six women in a 1976 recruit class. Five women resigned rather than be terminated by the Fire Department because of the assessment that they could not meet the physical requirements. Lakshas did not agree with the assessment that she was physically unable to perform some of the requirements. Chief Hanson told the Seattle Times on May 19, 1976, "She is physically incapable of performing the duties." Chief of Training Swartout stated specifically that she was unable to perform a one-man rescue carry. A top athlete in high school, and captain of the University of Washington swim team in 1975, Lakshas refused to resign and was terminated. On May 20, 1976, she filed a sex discrimination suit against the City.

Lisa Barron
Lisa Barron

During the investigation, the Office of Women's Rights found that the LEOFF testing was discriminatory in several ways. Three women had been disqualified on the basis of height when there was no height standard. No men were disqualified for this reason. Three women were disqualified on the basis of laboratory tests that showed anemia, pregnancy and a "probably thyroid adenoma." Subsequent tests by private physicians proved those results to be false. Other conditions used to disqualify applicants also turned out to be non-existent, including heart conditions, vision standards, poor teeth, and knee problems. Several women reported the doctors were very cold and rude.


Three years after the suit was filed, the Office of Women's Rights found that there was reasonable cause to believe Lakshas had been discriminated against in physical and medical exams, evaluation of a wrist injury and removal from disability status. But not until eight years later, in 1984, did the Department of Human Rights find the charge of sex discrimination to be true. The City awarded Lakshas $40,000 for back pay, legal fees, and interest.


The attention Lakshas and other women received angered many citizens. Echoing the San Diego Fire Chief's prediction, there were women who were not in favor of female firefighters. The wife of a firefighter wrote to the Chief and stated, "It is unfair to the public to put our lives into the hands of people who are only there due to sex or race…." In 1976 another woman wrote to ask the Chief to stop hiring women over men because of Equal Rights. "We cannot possibly be expected to put our confidence in these persons to save our lives when they aren't capable of passing the enrollment tests!"


Even Beers was not immune. In response to a 1978 editorial in the Seattle Times applauding Beers' achievements, a woman wrote to complain that "Beers did receive very special treatment and advantages unavailable to white male applicants….The tragedy is not that Barbara Beers made it through with special favors…but that this kind of thing is taking place throughout the country."

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