History of African Americans in the Seattle Fire Department 

In 1889, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance that created the non-volunteer Seattle Fire Department. At this time there were no minorities or women in the Seattle Fire Department. 

In 1911 under fire Chief Stetson assurance, sixty six negros  were prepared to take the civil service exam, and consideration was given to opening a new fire house manned entirely by negros. (Seattle Sun Newspaper 1911-12).This was derailed by a faltering economy and the start of WWI. 

It wasn’t until January 5, 1959, when Claude Harris was hired as Seattle's first Black Firefighter.

Claude Harris remained the only African American in the Department until 1967, when Howard Levert and Gerald Jones were hired, bringing the total to three. The remainder of the 1960s saw more African Americans hired as Firefighters. During this time the African American firefighters formed a formal/informal organization to address their needs and concerns. The organization would later become known as the Seattle Black Firefighters Association, which has been, and remains a member in good standing with the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters. 

Seattle Black Firefighter Association was started in 1968 by Claude Harris as an informal group, that discussed the common problems of the few blacks in the dept.

In 1968, Fire Chief Gordon Vickery instituted the Trainee Program that prepared applicants for employment and careers in the Seattle Fire department. When trainees graduated from the program they entered the department as Recruit Firefighters. During this time over 100 African Americans entered the program, with more than two-thirds graduating to become full-fledged firefighters. The trainee program lasted from 1968 until 1977. 

In the fall of 1980 the Seattle Fire department hired Janet Beal the first African American female firefighter. In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affirmative Action/Selective certification process, which was ratified by the Washington State Supreme Court.

 In July of 1985 Claude Harris became the first African American Fire Chief for the City of Seattle, and remained in that position until he retired in December of 1996. 

In the 1990s the number of African Americans appointed declined to 23 total. The reason was we had reached the Affirmative Action guidelines.

With the election of Charles Hawkins as the first African American President of the Seattle Firefighter’s Union, Local 27, positive steps were made to participate in the Department’s recruiting program to actively target under-represented groups. 

April 2004 saw the appointment of the second African American Chief of the Seattle Fire Department, Chief Gregory Dean. We are optimistic that in this New Millennium Chief Dean will renew the concentrated targeted recruitment of minorities and women.


The Objectives of the Seattle Black Firefighters’ Association is  the recruitment and promotion of minority membership into the Seattle Fire Department.

The SBFFA instills encouragement of higher degrees of skill and efficiency in the fire service and the cultivation of friendship and fellowship among its’ members.

Our membership is limited to professional firefighters current or retired, of good moral character, and in good standing in the Seattle Fire Department.

Seattle Black Firefighters Assn.

Officers: President, Roberto Jourdan
Vice President: Cardell Thompson
Treasurer: Norris F. Edwards
Secretary: Kali Roberts
Sergeant At Arms: Darnell Factory

Past President
Clarence Williams
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