Chief Gerry Woodhouse (“Woody”) has retired from the fire service after 33 years, the last 20 as Fire Chief of Company #1 in Rossland.
Woody recently shared some of his memories of the fire service, and what it was like when he started.
“It was overwhelming, the same time I started as chief, I also started a new business. I already had 13 years in, so it was an easy fit otherwise.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the calls I remember are the gruesome ones or picking up friend’s kids; those are the ones you never forget. I remember my first structure fire on Cook Avenue and I went in with firefighter Vince Profili. I remember Vince being there, and how dark it was. Unfortunately, the building was a total loss.”
The first structure fire as chief was in Upper Rossland, a newer house that started as a chimney fire and escalated into a full-on structure fire.
“The house was lost. It’s really hard, as a lot of times you blank them out.”
The school fire in the gym at Rossland Secondary School happened when Woody was still a firefighter.
“A 12” solid beam; an iron beam, was twisted by the heat like a pretzel. The gym is a big empty structure; not a lot of fuel, not sure where all the heat was generated. That fire was started by a gym mat put against a light bulb.”
Woody misses the community involvement, the volunteering, but he is very proud of the fundraising efforts, which were huge morale builders. It helped get the department out into the community and raise the department’s profile.
He remembers many of the mentors he had, Oli Dorati, Butch, Bob Flegel, the list goes on. He also found working with the Fire Commissioner’s office to be particularly interesting work, determining what actually happened. Woodhouse is also proud of the number of firefighters he worked with who ended up taking this job as a career.
“It was used as a stepping stone. It’s the best place to start.”
Regional Chief Terry Martin shared many of those lifetime steps with Woodhouse.
“Gerry and I were friends throughout high school and he was actually the best man when I got married. My dad was the fire chief back then and as I grew up I knew I wanted to be a firefighter and so did Gerry.
“There happened to be quite a few very large fires in the mid to late ‘70s and early ‘80s; The White Wolfe Hotel, Allan Hotel, Rossland Miner, Maclean School, Masonic Hall and the Anglican Church. All these drove us to want to be part of the fire service.
“The idea was we would both put in applications at the same time but we had to wait until he was 19.
Back then there was also a waiting list to join as a lot of folks wanted to be part of the fire service. We both started on the same night in August 1981.
“The other thing people need to know about Gerry is his involvement with the Christmas Hampers. Again, we (the fire service) have helped in the organization and delivery of the hampers since 1981. Gerry was a truly dedicated member of the fire service and put in 33 years to help his community. You don’t really see that length of service anymore.”
Rossland Chief Larry Simm added Woodhouse had his own style and leadership in the fire hall.
“Woody was a great chief. He was definitely strict and he liked his own way, but he always was very good to his firefighters.
“He looked after them, and always made sure you were okay. That’s a big thing.”
Although Gerry does have regrets about missing out on some time with his kids as a result of being called out, Woody hopes to be remembered by his “commitment to the community, and being part of the community, as well as making it a better place.
“I hope I did that.”