Female firefighting pioneer retires after 33 years serving Snohomish County

SNOHOMISH, Wash. – The first paid female firefighter in Snohomish County retired Monday after 33 years of service.

Janet Jaeger also served as the first paid female lieutenant and first battalion chief for Snohomish County Fire District 7.

"I just wanted to be a firefighter, more than anything," Jaeger said Monday, looking back at her career. 

“I’m often asked for horror stories or examples of how I was treated poorly. It hasn’t happened. I’ve been treated like gold since the day I got here.”

“I’ve always respected her as one of the members of the fire crew, it has nothing to do with whether she’s a female or not," said Fire Chief Gary Meek. "As tiny and small as she seems to appear, the strength that she brings is just phenomenal. She’s always been one of the first ones to jump in and get the job done, and is one of the last ones around when the job is finished.”

Starting as a firefighter in training in 1984, Jaeger has inspired a whole generation of firefighters – who will remember her for her quick wit, compassion and humor. 

“You didn’t want to cross her either, otherwise she’d have something to say,” said Todd Epler, a driver for District 7. “She’s worked hard her entire career and has the respect of everybody around, so she’s definitely an example to follow after.”

Jaeger became more than just a mentor to Epler – she became family. 

“I was doing something right, because she introduced me to her niece, and we got married,” Epler said.

In retirement, Jaeger said she plans to catch up on sleep, surf, and spend time with loved ones.  

“I could thank this fire department and these people every day for the rest of my life, and it wouldn’t be enough," she said. "The fire service is the best job in the world, and I’m pinching myself every day that I got to do it. You don’t have to be a firefighter, you get to be a firefighter.”