The District Fire Department took on a distinctly feminine air this week when Beatrice Rudder reported for duty at Engine Company 4, 2531 Sherman Ave. NW.
Rudder, a former swimming instructor with the D.C. Department of Recreation, became the city's first female firefighter after completing a 50 day physical and academic training course with 21 of the original 24 trainees in the fire academy's 268the class.
She ranked sixth academically, scoring 91.6 points; eight in emergency medical training, with a score of 92, and 17th in firefighting skills, scoring 88.4.
As well-wishers applauded the graduades at the academy's graduation ceremony, Rudder, 24, appeared a jaunty, handsome figure in the blue uniform of the department.
Joseph F. Vita received top scholastic honors for maintaining a 68.8 average. John E. Thumannn received the award for firefighting skills with a 65.4 average and Richard G. Biagi's 97.5 average in emergency medical skills earned him the award in that category.
The class is the "best" of 1,500 people, including 143 women, who took the firefighters civil service exam last February, said Assistant Fire Chief John P. Devine.
However, fire department officials said 3,000 individuals took the exam last January and this class, the second class taken from that list, represent half of the top 48 people out of that 3,000. All scored over 90 on the exam, and Rudder was the first woman to appear on the list. Eventually other women will be coming up on the list, said Devine. There are 1,450 men in the department.
"I was looking for another job and the idea of becoming a firefighter was very exciting," said Rudder, explaining why she had taken the exam. The comprehensive test included questions on logic, fire signals, English, math and other subjects.Rudder, who holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from American University, said the test, "was very simple actually. I knew I had passed."
In December she was notified of her acceptance, and in January the new trainees were sworn into the fire department. February began an intensive 50-day, academic and physical training program and classes held eight hours a day in subjects that included hydraulics, hose and ladder elevation and various physical exercises.
One such exerciser involved lifting a 16-foot ladder to the roof of a six-story building by climbing into a window at each level and pulling the ladder up through the window to proceed to the next level. Rudder was able to complete this exercise in an average time of 90 seconds.
"We had a fire here. They wet everthing on fire and we had to put out the blaze," she recalled. "But that's a controlled situation. I've thought about (fighting a fire). I'm a little scared but anxious to go to my first fire," she said.
"I have no long-range plans for my job, but if the job is what I want I intend to advance as far as I can," she continued. "I'll even try for fire chief."
Lt. John Stelmack, Rudder's commanding officer, outlined the firefighters' future saying. "Take 150 pounds (of firefighting equipment), add it to your body, run up six flights of stairs and you have your job cut out for you."
He said Rudder is "just another firefighter coming on the job," and no special arrangements other than a separate dressing area with shower and bath have been made available for her. Assigments, equipment and sleeping quarters (in a dormitory for 10 people) will be the same as for the men.
"I'm an adaptable person. The living situation is no adjustment for me." said Rudder. And though she said she had trouble handling the firefighting equipment, "I passed all the tests."
She said she stands 5-feet-6 and her weight "is probably 148 pounds now. I sweated a lot during the ceremony," she laughed.
Department officials said there are no weight and height requirements for fighters other than they be "proportionate."
"She doesn't except or want to be treated any differently (from the men)," said Jefferson W. Lewis, chief of the fire department. "I'm very pleases with Miss Ruddre's performance. In my opinion she's academically better equipped than most men. I'm very pleased to have her. Im going to give her every opportunity to make it."
"She's a very unique girl," agreed Devine, "Well adjusted and readily accepted by the class."
Rudder, however, disagrees on this point."A few people have been friendly with me in the class, but only a few," she said. And although she doesn't know anyone at her new job, she said she's optimistic about the future.
"I know she's and achiever. All my children are," beamed her mother Doris Rudder, an elementary school teacher who is returning to college to study theatre arts. Her husband John is a secondary school science teacher, she said. There are four other Rudder children: Miriam, Lisa, Eugene and Karl.
"Bea is th ekind of person who thinks before she does things, even though they might be dangeraous," Rudder's mother continued. "She wouldn't take any foolish actions, no more than a mountain climber would cut his rope.
"Sure, I'm worried. I may not want to know when she's in a fire, but call me when she comes back."
Karl, the family philosopher, said his sister would "remember it's the effort not the success that determines the moral worth (of a person)."
During her first week Rudder will work the 14-hour night shift, 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. She'll then have three days off and return to work a three-day, 10 hour day shift. The schedule alternates each week.
The new recruits will all be on one year's probation and receive a starting salary of $13,799 a year.