Gerda Groothuizen, deputy fire chief of life safety and prevention, is retiring on July 29 after more than 32 years with the fire department.

“I just want time for myself,” she says.

“Right now and for the last couple of years, it’s been, I get home, I walk the dogs, I have supper, and that’s it for the night. There’s no time at the end of the day to do anything. So I want some time to just relax and enjoy.”

Groothuizen has served with Yellowknife’s fire division since 1989, starting as a volunteer and working up through the ranks to assume her current role in 2008.

It’s an impressive resume for someone who entered the profession almost completely by accident.

Having studied physical education at the University of Calgary, Groothuizen came to Yellowknife from Calgary while working for Canadian Mental Health. She was only supposed to fill in for a colleague for a month, but stuck around when that colleague quit.

At the time, she had always wanted to work with the ambulance service, and jumped at the chance when she saw an ad in the newspaper for volunteer firefighters.

“Because the fire department does both fire and ambulance, I thought ‘Well, OK, I’ll come on as volunteer firefighter, and then I can work on the ambulance,’” she recalls.

Despite her enthusiasm, she almost skipped out on her first training session.

“I was the only woman, and I felt totally out of place,” she says. “And I thought, ‘How can I possibly compete with all these guys?’”

But she completed her training, only to discover to her dismay she couldn’t join the ambulance crew as a volunteer. That left the fire service.

Between then and being promoted to management, Groothuizen has been present at just about every fire that didn’t happen while she was on vacation.

“Going into burning buildings to find and extinguish the fire with a partner and backup team was exciting but nerve-wracking,” she says. “Never in my wildest dreams as a child or teen did I expect to land such a fantastic occupation.”

Things haven’t always been easy since then: two firefighters have died in the line of duty during her time.

Still, although it wasn’t her first choice of career, Groothuizen discovered a passion for community engagement and education through the firefighting service. In her current role, she manages the teams that conduct fire safety inspections around town. She assesses high-risk buildings such as hospitals and seniors’ homes.

Before Covid, her team was also conducting fire safety workshops for students and seniors.

“And I love it, just being able to be in contact with the community and to teach people in the community fire safety habits is just phenomenal,” she says.

And the work is having a real impact.

“Through community engagement, the number of structure fires is reducing, fire deaths are far and few between, and the number of fire injuries has been minimal,” she says.

Still, after more than three decades on the job, and with her 65th birthday coming up, Groothuizen is looking to retire somewhere peaceful down south.

Even in her final days on the job, she hasn’t lost her enthusiasm, speaking at great length about fire safety. Even her parting words to the community are about fire safety: Have a working smoke detector. Have a meet-up spot for you and your family outside the house so you know everyone is accounted for if there’s a fire. Don’t leave the kitchen while you’re cooking, and if you have to, turn everything down first.

“To reduce death due to fire, to reduce the property loss due to fire, and injury due to fire, that is my passion,” she says. “And that is my my goal the whole time that I’ve been in this position and it keeps me going. I just absolutely love doing it.”

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  1. Thank you so much you and your team served Yellowknife very well. I spent 47 years in YK and felt very safe with our fire department. Hope you find a great retirement place to enjoy the golden years as we have on Vancouver Island

  2. Dearest Gerda
    You was and is a star to all who knew and knows you for your 30 plus years you have been a very wonderful blessing to this community you will be missed , but always loved thank you for your years of excellent care especially for us seniors that you gave call buttons that if we had a problem we could press the button and you or a fire fighter would answer and be of help you will always be in my prayers Gods richest blessings be with you in your retirement and my love. ❤️

  3. We both wish you a happy healthy retirement Gerda. Thank you for your years of service in the NWT We learned many good fire safety skills from all the visits and presentations you gave at the YK Bakers Senior’s Centre here in YK. Safe travels from Joyce and Merlyn