Wash. State’s first career female firefighter passes away at 64
Captain Jeanette Woldseth was trailblazer
February 22, 2018
(BELLEVUE, WA.) – On Wednesday the Bellevue Fire Department announced the passing of one of its beloved members and a fire service pioneer in our state, retired Captain Jeanette Woldseth.
CLICK TO ENLARGE Captain Jeanette Woldseth at various stages in her career. Photos: City of Bellevue
Woldseth, the first career female firefighter in Washington state, succumbed to cancer and passed away the afternoon of Feb. 19. She was 64 years young.
“Captain Woldseth was truly a ground-breaker, not only in the Bellevue Fire Department, but within the larger firefighter community,” said Bellevue Interim Fire Chief Todd Dickerboom. “She paved the way for so many women who came after her. We’re all deeply saddened by this loss. Jeanette was a very talented, wonderful person.”
Woldseth came from a long line of firefighters. Her grandfather served with the Seattle Fire Department from 1913-1946, retiring as a captain. Her father was a volunteer captain with the Bellevue Fire Department having served for twenty-five years; first with King County Fire District #14, then with the City of Bellevue.
Woldseth recalled discovering her interest in becoming a firefighter when her father asked her younger brother if he was interested in joining the volunteers. She turned to her dad and stated, “You didn’t ask me if I wanted to join the volunteers!” A short time later she came home to find out her father had submitted her application.
Woldseth served from 1975-1977 as a volunteer for the department. Then, when the call came to test for career status she jumped at it.
“We had to drag a charged 100 foot section of two-and-a-half hose 100 feet,” said Bellevue Paramedic Denny Rask who tested alongside her. “Male or female it was a tail kicker. She went first and passed without a problem. Her ability as a Bellevue firefighter was never in question.”
Hired on Jan.3, 1977 Woldseth became the state’s first female career firefighter. She was promoted to lieutenant Jan. 1, 1981 and she continued her climb through the ranks. Woldseth was promoted to the rank of captain on Oct.1, 1985.
She was also very active with the firefighter’s labor union IAFF Local #1604 serving as secretary/treasurer during her tenure at the city. Eventually, she became the first member of Local #1604 to be elected (unanimously) as secretary emeritus upon her retirement.
Woldseth retired as a captain on July 27, 2002. She was first diagnosed with cancer in 2010. It was stage II breast cancer and she underwent treatment for two years.
One year after completeing treatment, in 2013, the cancer came back. It was uncureable this time; stage IV metastatic breast cancer, according to a statement issued by the city.
For four years Woldseth was a driving force against the disease. She began to raise money as part of Obliteride, a biking event that occurs each year over an entire weekend with all proceeds going to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Over the years she raised some $51,000.
“Jeanette was loved by many. Her service to the City of Bellevue and its residents was remarkable and her legacy in the fire service will last for decades,” said the statement.
A celebration of her life is being planned for later this spring. Details will be announced at a later time.
Information for the above report was provided by the City of Bellevue