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.”
He continues, “I remember my first structure fire on Cook Avenue and I went in with Fire Fighter Vince Profili. Unfortunately, the building was a total loss”.
The first structure fire Woody attended as Chief was in a newer house in Upper Rossland. It 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,” Woody remembers.
The school fire in the gym at RSS happened when Woody was still a fire fighter. “A 12” solid iron beam was twisted by the heat like a pretzel. That fire was started by a gym mat put against a light bulb,” he remembers.
Woody misses the community involvement and 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. Woody 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. Woody is proud of the number of fire fighters 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,” he said.
Regional Chief Terry Martin was also interviewed for this story. “Gerry and I were friends throughout high school and he was my 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.” Martin stated.
In the mid to late 70’s and early 80’s; there happened to be quite a few very large fires including The White Wolfe Hotel, Allan Hotel, Rossland Miner, Maclean School, Masonic Hall and the Anglican Church. All these drove them both to want to be part of the fire service.
Martin goes on to say, “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 adds: “Woody was a great Chief. He was definitely strict and he liked his own way, but he was always very good to his firefighters. He looked after them, and always made sure they were okay. That’s a big thing.”
Although Woody does have regrets about missing out on time with his kids as a result of being called out, (“That’s the only thing I don’t miss!”) he hopes to be remembered by his commitment to the community and his help in making it a better place. “I hope I did that,” he said.
Woody still hears sirens, even at his cabin in the woods.