Fire Department Scrapbooks, 1947-1979

Overview of the Collection

Seattle (Wash.). Fire Dept.
Fire Department Scrapbooks
1947-1979 (inclusive)
19 volumes
Collection Number
Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle Municipal Archives
Office of the City Clerk
City of Seattle
PO Box 94728
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2062337807
Fax: 2063869025
Access Restrictions

Records are open to the public.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

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.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

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.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Item and date], Scrapbooks, Record Series 2801-13 Box [number], Folder [number]. Seattle Municipal Archives.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 Scrapbook 1947-1956
2 Scrapbook 1956-1961
3 Scrapbook 1961-1963
4 Scrapbook 1963-1965
5 Scrapbook 1965-1967
6 Scrapbook 1967-1968
7 Scrapbook 1968-1969
8 Scrapbook 1969-1970
9 Scrapbook 1970-1971
10 Scrapbook 1971-1972
11 Scrapbook 1972-1973
12 Scrapbook 1973-1974
13 Scrapbook 1974
14 Scrapbook 1974-1975
15 Scrapbook 1975
16 Scrapbook 1975-1976
17 Scrapbook 1977
18 Scrapbook 1978
19 Scrapbook 1979

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Emergency medical services--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Fire stations--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Fireboats--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Fires--Washington (State)--Seattle

Personal Names

  • Fitzgerald, William
  • Hanson, Frank
  • Richards, Jack N.
  • Shelton, Glenn
  • Strom, Elmer
  • Uhlman, Wesley C. (Wesley Carl), 1935-
  • Vickery, Gordon Franklin, 1920-1996

Corporate Names

  • Seattle (Wash.). Fire Dept.

Geographical Names

  • Seattle (Wash.)


  • Fire fighters--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Fire chiefs--Washington (State)--Seattle