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Guide to the Archives of the City of Seattle

Record Group 2800
Fire Department

The creation of the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) can be traced back to July 6th, 1876, when the all-volunteer Seattle Engine Company No.1 was organized by a meeting of citizens convinced of their growing town's need for a dedicated fire-suppression capability. The various fire companies that appeared in proceeding years were similarly equipped and administered on a private basis until 1883, when the City Charter was amended to create and fund equipment, but not staff, for a centralized municipal fire department. The first fire chief of this new volunteer organization, Gardner Kellogg, would also become the first chief of the professionalized department in 1889, as well as the first Fire Marshall in 1901. The volunteer-based system persisted into the late 1880s, when the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed over 30 city blocks and resulted in approximately $12-16 million in damages. Under pressure from the insurance industry and its citizens, the city council acknowledged the inadequacy of a part-time force to meet the city's expanding need for fire protection. The council passed Ordinance No. 1212 in 1889, which reformed Seattle's seven volunteer companies into a paid, professional unit of 32 men organized into five district fire stations.

The decades following the birth of the professional SFD brought rapid increase in size and resources commensurate with Seattle's explosive growth rate; from an 1890 population of 42,000, the city's inhabitants numbered over 237,000 by 1910. Prominent developments included the creation of a maritime fire unit with the deployment of the fireboat Snoqualmie in 1891; the complete transition from horse-drawn to motorized fire engines in 1924; and the development of firefighter-staffed, emergency response "aid cars" during the 1930s. The SFD also participated in the historic founding of the International Association of Fire Fighters in 1918; the department's Local 27 constituted one of the union's 218 charter members. While the rigors of the Great Depression necessitated the temporary dissolution of 14 of the SFD's 55 operational companies, recovery was hastened by the threat of new fire hazards posed by World War II-era industrialization. Associated incidents, such as the 1943 Frye Slaughterhouse fire caused by the crash of a B-29 bomber, would severely tax the department's limited resources during this time.

The postwar SFD experienced a wave of significant material and organizational changes, one of the first being the Local 27-sponsored institution of the 8-hour day and 48-hour week for firefighters in 1947. Other important developments included the installation of two-way radio communication in first-line vehicles in 1950, the 1958 upgrading of the aid car program with stretcher-bearing station wagons, and the 1959 adoption of a new Fire Code based upon national standards. Throughout this time, the SFD's institutional mandate continued to evolve beyond basic fire suppression. In 1970, the department's new Medic One program initiated the training and deployment of firefighters as first-response paramedic units throughout Seattle. In 1980, the specially trained and equipped Hazardous Materials Response Unit was deployed to respond to incidents involving dangerous chemicals, including fires, spills, and suspected drug labs. Some of the most consequential changes to the SFD at mid-century did not concern equipment but equality, as the department admitted its first African-American firefighter (Claude Harris) in 1959 and its first female firefighter (Bonnie Beers) in 1977. The ongoing commitment to the recruitment and training of under-utilized applicant pools substantially diversified the department's make-up; of the 49 firefighters enlisted in 1993, 9 were female and 11 of minority status.

As of 2010, the SFD contains 1,020 uniformed personnel organized into 5 Operational Battalions and one Medic Battalion, which are employed running 33 engine-equipped fire stations, 11 aid and medic teams, 4 fireboats, and a host of other emergency resources. Several specialized units are used for hazardous materials response, marine response, search and rescue, and other incidents requiring extraordinary expertise. Under the control of the Fire Marshall's Office, the SFD administers an array of fire prevention efforts, including Fire Code enforcement, inspection of building fire plans and safety systems, public education programs, and the regulation of hazardous materials storage and use. In addition, the department provides leadership and personnel to several regional incident response organizations, such as FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue Teams and the Puget Sound Marine Response Consortium.


2800-01
Board of Fire Commissioners Minutes

1890-1896
1 volume

Proceedings of Board meetings. The Board was established by the Charter of 1890 with responsibility of overseeing and regulating the City's first professional fire department.

SMA
Finding Aid


2801-01
Chief's General Correspondence

1894-1951
7.2 cubic feet

Correspondence relating to Fire Department activities. Includes information on equipment needs and purchases, department budget, code violations, assessments of station sites, equipment and apparatus evaluations, and personnel matters. Includes 11 volumes of outgoing correspondence covering 1894 to 1928; volume for June 1918 to September 1920 is missing. Incoming and outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically by Fire Chief (5.2 cubic feet) and dates from 1903 to 1951. Although much of the correspondence is of a routine nature, it covers both world War I and II, as well as the 1930s. Included is correspondence from Cheif Stetson with his son Horatio, who served in World War I.

SMA
Volume and Folder List
Finding Aid


2801-02
Chief's Intradepartmental Memoranda

1895-1917
3.0 cubic feet

Correspondence and memoranda from the Fire Chief relating to personnel actions including reprimands, promotions, hiring and firing. Also includes memoranda to other departments and Fire Marshal's notices of fire code violations.

SMA


2801-03
Central Files

1890-2003
79.8 cubic feet

Central file maintained by Department administration. Includes correspondence, reports, interdepartmental correspondence and equipment files related to Department activities. Topics include arson, civil defense, pension fund, fire prevention, fireboats, and emergency services, among others. Arranged by subject in 34 subseries, the central files reflect the history of the Department, changing technology, and the local and national context of the Department.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2801-04
Apparatus Records

1900-1955
5.0 cubic feet

Certificates of title, inspection reports, correspondence regarding sales, specifications, and accident reports for trucks, wagons, and other fire apparatus. Includes reports of tests conducted prior to purchase.

SMA


2801-05
Station House Records

1903-1984
8.2 cubic feet

This record series contains information about the physical structures of the station houses of the Seattle Fire Department. Types of materials include correspondence, memoranda, maintenance requests, architectural drawings and photographs. The records contain some materials related to personnel and community relations issues. New station planning materials, including building drawings and appraisal reports, are included for some stations. Requisitions for station amenities make up a large portion of the records, including requests for basketball hoops, new lockers, electricity or telephone service. Maintenance of the building makes up a large portion, in the form of inspection reports, repair requests and some materials regarding WISHA violations. Documentation outlining damage to the station house is also prevalent, including broken windows and doors, vandalism, automobile collisions and theft. The files are organized by station house number as designated by the Fire Department.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2801-06
Newsletter

1964-1983
0.8 cubic foot

Monthly departmental newsletter.

SMA


2801-09
Slides

1971-1991
1.2 cubic feet

Slides primarily used in public relations and training prgrams. Included are slide presentations used in School and Fire-Safe Education Program (SAFE), recruiting images, specifically of women and minorities, Medic I and safety education. A small number of images cataloged in photograph database.

SMA


2801-12
Departmental Publications

1915-2004
0.4 cubic foot

Newsletters published by the department as well as the union, the officers' association, a fire buff society, and others. Also includes brochures and Fire Department ephemera.

SMA
Folder List


2801-13
Scrapbooks

1947-1979
19 volumes

Scrapbooks consisting of newspaper clippings of articles and photographs on topics related to the Fire Department. Most of the articles cover incidents to which the firefighters responded, including fires, car accidents and medical emergencies. Also prevalent are articles regarding the fire department's involvement with specific propositions, initiatives, fire station closures and pay raises/cuts. Also included are articles about training, equipment, personal interest stories about firefighters and charitable causes. Other topics of historical interest that are covered in detail include the investigation of Captain Strom by the House Committee on Un-American Activities; Chief Vickery's career as Seattle City Light superintendent; the creation of Medic I and its funding issues; the rise of arson and the evolution of Seattle's Arson Unit; the controversial dismissal of Chief Richards and recall vote of Mayor Uhlman; the introduction of women firefighters to the department.

Dates are written next to the clippings, but not the newspaper name, although most articles appear to be local and are likely from the Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer. A small number of other types of materials are included, including some newsletters and some photographic prints.

SMA
Volume List


2801-14
Marine Fire Protection Project Records

1972-1980
2 cubic feet

The Marine Fire Protection Project was established in 1973 to create a fire-safe environment for shipboard personnel, protect port facilities and the maritime economy, reduce the potential for large marine fires and environmental damage, provide highly trained personnel for ship fires, and encourage the fire service and the maritime community to cooperate in marine fire protection efforts. The first two years of active operation were funded by a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Commerce, State of Washington, and Seattle Fire Department. After this period, the project relied on funds donated by the marine industry. The budget restraints within the City of Seattle, combined with the lack of a permanent funding source, forced termination of the program on June 30, 1977.

The Marine Fire Protection Project Records include correspondence, minutes, detailed planning documents, and daily and monthly reports. Records cover the early planning phases of the project through its execution and eventually its discontinuation. Topics include education, training, equipment, budgets, and procedures. The records document the cooperative efforts among the ports, cities, state and federal institutions during the project.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2801-15
Public Information Officer Records

1915-1993
4.8 cubic feet

Records from the Public Information Officer documenting the activities of the Seattle Fire Department from the 1960s through the late 1980s. The collection includes press releases dating from the 1960s through the 1980s, graduation ceremony programs and planning records, fire station dedication and rededication records, as well as memos from various fire chiefs, citizen complaints and responses, and information on fire safety films. Of particular interest are records pertaining to the investigation and subsequent arrest of Paul Kenneth Keller for various arson fires in 1992-1993. This series also includes promotional activity between the SFD and the Seattle Sounders soccer team from the early 1980s, as well as records from the Seattle Fire Buff Society, the Forward Thrust campaign and a letter from the public relations division to Mrs. Gordon Vickery, the wife of Chief Vickery.

Three early 20th century photographs (ca. 1915) are also included in the collection, showcasing apparatus and firefighters. One photograph is identified as having been taken on Third Avenue and Pine Street, near the Fischer Building. Also of interest are photographs of training activities, women in the fire department, photographic portraits of Chiefs Frank Hanson, Jack Richards and Claude Harris, construction of stations 19, 29 and 36, and fire boat photographs and negatives, as well as night inspections of downtown alleyways and business from the 1960s.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2802-01
Personnel Pocket Cards

1890-1970
4.0 cubic feet

Summary and index to department personnel files. Includes demographic data on employees and brief notes on personnel actions.

SMA


2802-02
Union Records

1964-1998
4.4 cubic feet

Correspondence, meeting minutes, agreements and contracts, and negotiation and arbitration files maintained by the department primarily relating to the Firefighters Union Local 27. Two folders relate to Local 2898.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2802-03
Civil Service Department Correspondence

1895-1927
10 volumes

Correspondence and civil service forms relating to promotions, notices of appointment, separations, misconduct reports, injury reports, requests for certification, and returns to service.

SMA
Volume List


2802-04
Conduct Reports

1904-1914
6 volumes

Reports to the Civil Service Department concerning conduct of men in each company. Filed monthly.

SMA
Volume List


2802-06
Personnel Records

1903-1969
66.4 cubic feet

Records of positions held, promotions, disciplines taken, civil service investigations, and extracurricular activities on behalf of the Fire Department. The records provide glimpses into the employees' personal lives, especially in the 1910s and 1920s, as the files include explanations for tardiness, communications with debtors, and reasons for resignations. The personnel files cover employees who worked less than a year to those who worked more than 50 years. Women began working in the department as clerical workers in larger numbers in the late 1950s. Most worked for a year or less; the files record their reasons for leaving which include pregnancy, school, health, or "to seek more suitable employment." An excellent source for genealogy, the Personnel Records contain information about how the Department functioned as well as insight into the lives of the employees in the Department.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2802-07
Engine Company Roll Book

1892-1896
1 volume

Daily logs of each firefighter's hourly in and out status of Engine Company 6. Also includes some additional information such as supplies received and alarms or fires, as well as fire fighter substitutions.

SMA


2802-08
Log Books

1905-1955
3 cubic feet, 29 volumes

Chronological log (dates and times) of the regular business of the Engine Company, Truck Company or Watch desk of a station. Each volume is exclusive to a particular location. Log books contain differing amounts of detail and differing additional information. All include some kind of personnel information such as shift changes, officers on duty, days off, drills, substitutions, payroll or sick/injured fire fighters. Almost all include some alarm and response information. Other information recorded includes hydrants which are in and out of service, neighborhood water shut-offs, drills performed, supplies received and equipment inspections. Watch Desk log books are specific to a station. See Volume List for specific Engine and Truck Companies, Stations, and time periods represented.

SMA
Volume List


2804-01
Performance Record

1894-1906
4 volumes

Chronological record of alarms and subsequent actions taken at the fire sites. Information provided for each fire: date of alarm, time alarm received, engine companies responded, distance traveled to fire, amount of time at site, feet of hose laid, feet of ladder raised, gallons of chemicals used, casualties, and remarks. Includes monthly tallies.

SMA


2804-02
Alarm Response Log

1919-1926
3 volumes

Each volume is divided into sections, each engine company in its own section. Within each company section is a chronological list of alarms to which the company responded. Includes date, name and address of building or structure and Fire Department officer on duty.

SMA


2804-03
Record of Fires

1894-1924
20 volumes

Chronological record of fires in Seattle, including date, time, alarm, location, owner, description, cause, and information regarding the value and loss of building and contents. Monthly and yearly summaries are also included. Some volumes list responding Engine Companies.

SMA
Volume List


2805-01
Medic I and II Records

1969-1992
3.0 cubic feet

The Seattle Fire Department has operated a First Aid Unit Program on a 24-hour per day basis since 1942. As the population grew, life support systems for persons en route to the emergency room grew to be a critical issue, and Medic One was born. Training began in 1969 and the first Medic One call was on March 7,1970. Services were expanded throughout King County in 1976 and other counties in Washington State began adopting their own Medic One programs. Seattle Medic One is operated by the Seattle Fire Department and funded by the city's general fund. The Medic II Program started in 1971 and provides training classes in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and choking techniques. Classes are taught by firefighters on their own time; they are compensated out of a donated budget.

This series consists of correspondence, reports, financial information, training material, and public relations material relating to emergency medical services of the Fire Department. Also includes board materials for the Medic One Emergency Medical Services Foundation. In addition to financial information, the Foundation board materials contain information about research projects relating to various aspects of cardiac arrest.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2810-01
Record of Fire Losses and Insurance

1903-1911
2 volumes

Chronological list of fires written in narrative form including date, address of structure, owner, estimated amount of loss, and insurance coverage. Many entries are incomplete.

SMA


2810-02
Fire Marshal's Correspondence

1902-1912
1.0 cubic foot

Correspondence, notices, and inspection reports regarding fire hazards, fire code violations, fire escapes, and other safety devices at Seattle homes and businesses. Includes orders to correct violations. This is almost exclusively the correspondence of Gardner Kellogg.

SMA


2810-03
Building Inspections Log Book

1901-1910
1 volume

For dates 1901 - April 1906, this volume is a chronological record of building inspections performed by the fire department. Includes address and owner of building, which ordinance was violated and how, reported by whom, what type of notification was given, how much time was allowed to comply, and results. Inspections that resulted in no violations are also recorded. Also includes monthly tallies and yearly summaries. The types of violations include defective chimneys, fire escape obstructions, and improper disposal of rubbish. For dates 1907-1910, this volume contains monthly and yearly tallies of number and type of violations as well as Fire Losses and Insurance totals.

SMA


2810-04
Goodwill Games Records

1987-1990
1.2 cubic feet

The Goodwill Games were established as an apolitical alternative to the Olympic Games after those events were boycotted during the Cold War. The first Goodwill Games were held in 1986 in Moscow, and the second took place in Seattle from July 20 to August 5, 1990. Nearly 2300 athletes from 54 countries competed in 21 sports. Many more people participated in companion events including conferences, a Goodwill Arts Festival, and a number of friendship activities. The City of Seattle was partially responsible for fire protection and emergency medical services for the Games. The Seattle Fire Department took the lead for the City, and closely cooperated with other public safety and law enforcement agencies to plan for and respond to emergencies associated with the event. City agencies also participated in the Joint Operations Center (JOC), a multi-agency endeavor that coordinated security planning and monitored emergency activities.

These records include meeting minutes and correspondence relating to security and fire prevention planning, budget planning, and staffing. Notable are minutes and correspondence of the Joint Forces Coordinating Committee (JFCC), the Integrated Police Planning Group (IPPG), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and Coordinated Threat Assessment Group (CTAG). CTAG was the formal operations group to address intelligence problems, and was responsible for the security measures for former President Reagan, First Lady Barbara Bush, and other important guests. Records also include detailed Games schedules, as well as disaster planning documents for fire, earthquake, bombings, and other scenarios.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2810-05
Accident Prevention and Incident Board Minutes

1981-1992
0.2 cubic foot

Findings of the Accident Prevention and Incident Board concerning fire apparatus accidents and personal injuries to fire personnel. The board met once a month to evaluate accidents and incidents, determining whether they were "preventable" or "non-preventable." Recommendations for how to avoid incidents were given, as well as estimated costs of damage to apparatus and shift losses for injured personnel. The memoranda provide a schedule for the year's meetings and which battalion and ladder companies are requested to be in attendance.

SMA
Finding Aid


2810-06
Public Education and Fire Safety Records

1980-1995
4.0 cubic feet

Records from the Fire Marshal's office of the Seattle Fire Department relating to public education and fire safety. The series contains information on public and school fire safety education such as the School and Fire-Safe Education (S. A. F. E.) program, Change Your Clock campaign, Fire Prevention Week, and a smoke detector program aimed at providing equipment for low income residents. Correspondence and memoranda related to the activities of the Public Education Supervisor, Diane Shirk, are included in the series, as are residential fire statistics from 1981-1987, and incomplete monthly, quarterly and annual budget reports for 1980-1994.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2810-07
Building Code Revision Records

1977-1983
1.2 cubic feet

Records from the office of the Fire Marshal related to the update and revision of Seattle's high rise building codes in the early 1980s. On November 21, 1980, the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, was destroyed by a fire that resulted in the deaths of 85 people. Due to a lack of sprinkler systems throughout most of the casino and other factors pertaining to the local building code exemptions, the fire spread within the hotel in anywhere from one to ten minutes, according to the initial report given by SFD Chief B. L. Hansen in his memorandum to SFD Chief R. L. Swartout. As a result of this fire, the City of Seattle together with the Fire Department drafted and passed Ordinance 110299 adding Article 93 to the Uniform Fire Code, to the Seattle Fire Code in order to facilitate improved safety conditions to building occupants.

Included in the collection are drafts of the Ordinance and Article 93, reports, research notes and memoranda. Also in the collection are letters from business owners and citizens concerning the effect the new codes would have on low-income residents, as well as reports and other details concerning the financial impact on low-income housing. Records related to the changes made to the State Building Code are also included, as is information about the MGM Grand Hotel fire.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2810-08
Fire Marshal Subject Files

1951-1993
Bulk Dates: 1964-1979
3.4 cubic feet

Records relating to the office of the Fire Marshal including information on diverse topics such as building inspections, Seattle's 1974 comprehensive policy plan, urban renewal, false fire alarms and fire incident summaries throughout the mid 1960s. Of particular interest are the files on the Central Area community during the late 1960s. These records document civil disturbances, racial tensions and groups such as the Black Panthers, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Seattle Rumor Center. Also of interest are records pertaining to the planning of the King County Domed Stadium (the Kingdome) and earthquake damage reports/assessments related to the April 29, 1965, earthquake.

SMA
Folder List
Finding Aid


2810-09
Fire Code Violation Cards

1919-1968
0.5 cubic foot

This series contains index cards recording fire code violations by business owners, employees, and citizens. Information given includes date of offense, name, violation, resulting fine and/or judgment. Offenses ranged from obstructing hallways, improper storage of combustibles, "unflameproofed circus tents," illegal sale of fireworks and fire exit doors nailed shut. Smoking in a "no smoking" area also resulted in fines for many longshoremen, fisherman and other individuals working on or near Seattle docks. During the 1920s and 1930s, many theatre owners were fined for allowing people to congregate in the lobby, aisles or for someone smoking on stage.

SMA
Finding Aid


2810-10
Fire Incident Cards

1963-1977
0.25 cubic foot

This series contains index cards with information regarding various types of fire incidents. One series records the date, time and location of fire incidents at local schools. Another series describes fires that led to injuries and deaths of local citizens. Fire incidents in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties are recorded documenting the date, structure and cost of damage. Finally, a series of index cards describing the method of operation used to start various fires are also included.

SMA
Finding Aid


2811-01
Estimates and Budgets

1890-1924
5 volumes

Copies of departmental budgets and estimates of expenditures.

SMA
Volume List


2811-02
Record of Supplies Received and Disbursed

1894-1906
5 volumes

Record of supplies received by the department and then disbursed to respective engine companies. Includes vendor, description of supplies, quantity, and cost. Arranged chronologically.

SMA


2811-03
Distribution of Claims

1908-1925
1 volume

Record of payments for equipment and supplies, building repair and maintenance, utilities, payroll, and other department expenses. Includes voucher number, name of payer, service or account type, and amount paid. Annual recapitulations are arranged by engine company and totaled by month.

SMA


2811-04
Operating Expense Ledger

1894-1897
1 volume

Monthly list of operating expenses including small stores, feed, harness repair, chemicals, fuel, drugs and medicine, etc. Arranged by engine company.

SMA


2811-05
Record of Expenses

1893
1 volume

Record of departmental expenses arranged chronologically with monthly recapitulation by fire company. Includes date, requisition number, item or supplies, cost, and company receiving it.

SMA


2811-06
Monthly Appropriation Record

1911-1924
1 volume

Record of monthly expenditures for apparatus, equipment, supplies, maintenance, and services. Includes date; requisition, and voucher order numbers; and amount of order by type of expenditure.

SMA


2811-07
Stable, Laundry, Chicken, Fireworks, and Sign Permit Index

1906-1911
1 volume

Two indexes. Fireworks and signs permit index for 1906 includes name of grantee and permit number. Index for stable, laundry and chicken permits for 1908-1911 includes grantee, date, and permit type.

SMA


2811-08
Expense Ledger and Study Questions

1901-1928

This volume contains two separate subjects interspersed throughout the volume.
One portion consists of a ledger where payments or costs are recorded and added. Some of the months are dated 1901. This portion is organized by name of company or type of expense, with amounts listed by date below. Some headings are names of companies, such as Lowman & Hanford, Laird & See, Sanford Manufacturing Company. Many of these names only have one entry under the heading. Other headings include: Expenses, Advertising, Furniture and Fixtures, and Merchandise.

The other portion of the volume is used in journal form and consists of questions without answers regarding many topics related to firefighting. Dates written within this portion range from 1924 - 1928. Some topics covered include: discipline, explosion causes, chemical uses and dangers, fire boat and engine specifications, reservoir volumes, first aid. There are a few references to Civil Service Commission as well as references to "study bulletins" so it is possible that these are related to the Civil Service Examination.

SMA