Captain Beers, Seattle’s First Woman Firefighter

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Seattle Municipal Archives Feature

Seattle Councilmember Jeanette Williams, as head of the Human Resources and Judiciary Committee in the 1970s, encouraged the Office of Women’s Rights to work with the Seattle Fire Department regarding their policy on women. In 1974, Mayor Wes Uhlman encouraged Fire Chief Jack Richards to develop a program for women fire fighters. By 1975, the Fire Department began recruiting women.A pre-recruit training program for women was in place by 1977 but several women resigned, one due to injury. Barbara Beers entered the minority male pre-recruit training in June that year, completing it successfully. She entered the Fire Department in January 1978, the first woman in the City to be a fire fighter.

Her undergraduate degree from the University of Washington (where she played basketball) was in psychology. In a 2009 interview, Beers said she didn’t want to be a nurse or a teacher or a secretary and she wanted to be active. The Fire Department was recruiting and it looked pretty good to her.
“I didn’t realize everything I did would be watched and be in the paper,” she said. “I really didn’t go into it thinking I was going to be the first woman firefighter…all of it kind of just happened. Everybody said I couldn’t do it, basically. I’m not super big, I’m not super strong-looking….But I’m tall and I’m pretty strong, and I’m really coordinated. So I surprised people…And also, I’m pretty fierce, I’m very dedicated, I have a really good work ethic.”
Beers mentored incoming female recruits and helped shape the pre-recruit program. Despite early discrimination in the program and outside of the Department, Beers took on the position of being a leader and a pioneer for other women following her as fire fighters. By the late 1980s, the Seattle Fire Department was considered a national model for the recruitment, hiring and retention of women as firefighters.
By 1992, Beers was the highest ranking woman in any fire department in the US. She was promoted to Captain in 1992 and Battalion Chief in 1996. After 30 years in the Department, she retired in 2008. Councilmember Sally Clark presented Captain Beers with a proclamation from City Council honoring her legacy, stating in part, “Bonnie’s tireless efforts and steadfast pursuit of what she believed in helped her become the first professional female firefighter in Seattle…She is truly a trailblazer and opened the doors for many others.”

Capitan Bonnie Bears
Firefighter Bonnie Beers.
Courtesy Jim Loso.
Recruiting flyer
Recruiting flyer, Box 1 Folder 12,
Office of Women’s Rights Women Firefighters Project Records, 8402-02, Seattle Municipal Archives

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