Northern News Services
Yellowknife (Oct 10/01) - Gertrude Groothuizen has been Yellowknife fire department's only full-time female firefighter for 12 years.
Being the only woman among 16 full-time, male firefighters has never deterred her.
"It is action-oriented. You are actually doing something with the training you have. It's not sitting behind a desk. I did that and I felt like I was not useful," Groothuizen said.
"It is not always easy and there are personality conflicts but you work them out."
And Oct. 6 was a typical day for Groothuizen. She and three of her colleagues raced out of the department's coffee room mid-morning when an alarm sounded.
They were on their way to Ptarmigan Apartments. Vehicles veered off to the right as sirens rang and horns blared on the truck.
Groothuizen said many drivers still do not know the proper procedure, which is to pull over to the right side of the road and stop, when sirens warn the massive truck is barrelling toward its destination.
Once inside the building, Groothuizen and her colleagues discovered there was no danger. An alarm had been set off during construction.
But as Groothuizen brushed past a group of bystanders, a young girl with blonde hair said, "I want to be a fireman."
"Firefighter," said the young girl's mother, correcting her daughter.
The little girl stared in admiration at Groothuizen, who was outfitted in her yellow firefighter's gear.
"I love it," Groothuizen said about her job.
"I wouldn't want to do anything else."
She does not have family here, but says she has stayed in Yellowknife because she loves her job.
The tall, fit and friendly firefighter's toughest moments came a couple of weeks into her career when three transport trucks piled up along the road.
A woman, about her age at the time, was pulled out of one of the vehicles and died shortly after at the scene.
"It was one of those things that made you really look deep," Groothuizen said. "Life is short and everyday is worth living."
Another time she responded to a call where a man was in cardiac arrest. Today he is healthy and fine, but when Groothuizen saw him that day many years ago, she didn't think he would make it.
"I was thinking I don't think he has a chance and all of a sudden we got him back," she said.
That gives Groothuizen a feeling that is almost indescribable.
"It's been 12 years and I still love it. My job is what holds me here, she said.