First Wash. career female firefighter dies of cancer
Retired Captain Jeanette Woldseth was described as a “groundbreaker” who “paved the way for so many women”
By FireRescue1 Staff
BELLEVUE, Wash. — The first female firefighter in Washington died Monday after a battle with cancer.
KOMO News reported that retired Bellevue Fire Department Captain Jeanette Woldseth became a career firefighter in 1977 after serving two years as a volunteer firefighter and was described as a “groundbreaker” by 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,” Chief Dickerboom said.
Woldseth said her career began when she overheard her father, who was a 25-year volunteer captain for BFD, asking her brother if he would like to join the department.
“You didn’t ask me if I wanted to join the volunteers,” Woldseth recalled saying. A short time later, her father submitted her application.
Woldseth’s peers said she jumped at the chance to take the career firefighter test.
“We had to drag a charged 100-foot section of two-and-a-half hose 100 feet,” Bellevue paramedic Denny Rask, who tested with her, said. “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.”
Retired Fire Chief Ken McAllister said the firefighters’ wives had the greatest objections to her working at the department.
“A few of the wives gave us an ultimatum - if Jeanette was assigned to the same shift and station as their husband, then their husband was not going to be allowed to come to work," Chief McAllister said.
Woldseth retired in 2002 and was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2010. She underwent two years of treatment, but the cancer came back in 2013, this time as stage four metastatic breast cancer.
Despite her condition, Woldseth raised nearly $51,000 for cancer research through an annual biking event.