Cindy Kampmeinert 1967-2008

When she wasn’t fighting fires, “Cins” marched in the Honour Guard—and to the beat of her own drum


 

Cindy Kampmeinert 1967-2008

Cindy Kampmeinert was born on Nov. 14, 1967, in Hellevoetsluis, an island town in the Netherlands. A mix of Dutch and Indonesian, she was an adorable child, with olive skin, deep brown eyes and a matching head of hair. Everyone called her “Cins” for short.

“Baby Cins” (and later, “Big Cins”) was only five when her parents, Ralph and Emelie (née Van der Star), immigrated to Canada and settled in White Rock, B.C., where “Papa” found work as a land surveyor in the nearby city of Richmond. The new kid in the neighbourhood had no trouble making friends. Forever smiling, she was confident and athletic—and far more comfortable playing sports with the boys than playing house with Monique, her older sister. “They were complete opposites,” says Cindy’s brother-in-law, David Williams. “Literally, Monique was the girl and Cindy was the boy.”

School was not Cindy’s strong point. She adored her teachers—and the feeling was mutual—but sitting through an entire math lesson was pure torture for a teenager who, like her father, would have much rather been camping or fishing. By Grade 9, Cindy was skipping classes (except gym, of course) and flunking exams. At 16, she climbed behind the wheel of her dad’s Volkswagen Beetle and embarked on her first solo road trip—to San Francisco.

Nobody was shocked. Or particularly angry. It was just another example of Cins being Cins: the harmless, free-spirited wanderer who craved adventure, yet for some reason volunteered to join the naval cadets—and never missed a marching practice. She was nothing if not unpredictable.

In her 20s, Cindy journeyed back to her native Holland to study carpentry. She later returned to B.C. as a certified cabinetmaker, but it was only a matter of time before the ever-restless Cins longed for something more. “As much as she loved woodworking, it didn’t really bring her the personal satisfaction she desired,” says Alannah Holdgate, whom Cindy often described as a surrogate mother. “She wanted more than just a job.” She wanted to be a firefighter.

It would not be easy. Women—especially openly gay women like Cindy—are a rarity in the brotherhood of firefighters. But Cins was so determined to break the mould that Alannah offered to pay her tuition to the training academy in Arkansas. “Picture this larger-than-life gay female going to Arkansas, which Cindy described as the most redneck place on the planet, and managing to get through their fire school,” Alannah says. After graduation, she landed a job with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.

Her new colleagues—“My boys,” as she affectionately called them—embraced her immediately. She was tough, sincere, hilarious, and hard-working. Famous for her “Cindy-isms” (“Suck it up, Buttercup!”) she liked to describe her job this way: “I put the wet stuff on the red stuff.” But Cins did so much more than that. She joined the Honour Guard, the volunteer unit that carries thecaskets of fallen firefighters. She convinced the chief to loan her a fire engine for the annual Gay Pride Parade. And every shift, she risked her life to save others, responding to horrific scenes of carnage and death that would disturb even the most seasoned paramedic.

When she wasn’t at work (or in the kitchen whipping up her latest secret recipe), Cindy was outside. “One day she would be hiking with her dog, Bindi Sue, on the North Shore Mountains, and the next day she would be paddling on her outrigger canoe on the waters of Vancouver,” David says. “There was nothing she would say she couldn’t do—or at least try to do. To say she was larger than life seems so trite, but she truly was.” In November, just before leaving on an extended vacation through Nepal, India and Australia, Cindy asked her friends to donate a few dozen toques. She lugged them overseas, found an orphanage in Kathmandu, and donated the hats to the children.

On Dec. 13, Cins was travelling through Goa, India, on a rented motorcycle, and like she does on all her excursions, she stopped by the local fire hall to say hello. After a quick tour and a few pictures, she climbed back on her bike and waved goodbye. Exactly what happened later remains unclear, but sometime that day her motorcycle collided with an oncoming bus, knocking her unconscious. Over the next seven hours, Cindy was refused service at three different hospitals, despite the heroic efforts of a complete stranger—a 22-year-old British tourist named Jessica Reece—who stayed by her side the entire time. Cins never woke up. On Dec. 22, her body arrived back in Vancouver. Fellow members of the Honour Guard were waiting to meet her.


 
Filed under:

Cindy Kampmeinert 1967-2008

  1. Hello,

    Thank you so much for publishing Cindy’s story, she was a very special person with a generous heart.
    Lovin’ and helping people and took them as they are.
    She will remain in our hearts always.

    sincerely, Paul Kampmeinert

    • Paul,
      I was best friends with Cindy in high school (we used to lift weights together) and haven’t seen her in almost 25 years. I just found out about this today through a mutual friend and I’m totally shocked. I’m not at all surprised by the story and feel grateful to have known her. She was an awesome friend and I will always remember her.
      Michelle Read

  2. The Pride Parade in Vancouver will not be the same. Her presence will certainly be missed. I can remember being cooled down when she hosed down the crowd from her perch on the fire engine and the cheers that arose when the Vancouver Fire Department came rolling by. My sympathy to her family and a loss to our community,

  3. It`s a very inspirational history. I am pleased to get to known about Cindy and her life. For sure she was a hero in her personal and professional life as the same.

    All my feelings to the family, friends and co-workers.

  4. I was horrified when I learned that Cindy had died.
    I remember her from her Holland trip (as described above in the heart-warming story by Deborah Lynn). We spend many nights in the (gay) bars in Den Bosch, not always drinking and partiing but also conversting about live and important things.
    I remember Cindy as being a warm and loving person, not always easy but always honest and upfront.
    I wish her relatives and friends strenght to carry on without her……..

  5. By googling I found and read this story. I am shocked to read that such a vivid young Cindy has died . Much too early!
    I wish all the best to Cindys family and friends intaking this loss.
    Sincere Margriet Ekels

    • Hoi Margriet,

      Wat goed om te lezen dat je Cindy niet vergeten bent.
      Haar dood heeft een grote impact gehad op onze toch al kleine familie.
      Dagelijks bezoek haar facebook, lees ik de berichten van al die mensen die haar niet vergeten zijn.
      Nog steeds is haar dood moeilijk te accepteren, it takes time to heal.

      Liefs, Paul

      • Hoi Paul (knal),

        Ik was eigenlijk op zoek naar jou toen ik dit bericht las. Koude rillingen toen ik het doorlas. Ik weet wat ze voor jou betekende en voor de familie. Veel wijsheid en sterkte en hoop je zelf te spreken.

        Paul Loohuis

  6. I have been refreshed by Cindy every year at Pride. She was always watering down the crowd with a hose and water balloons, this year there was no playtime on the fire truck, but there was Cindy's face in memorial. I looked at my friend and said "ohhhh no, that is the woman that always played with the crowd." It was sad to see the play had ended, but so glad her boys continued on and with Pride. From what I have read, she would have wanted it that way.
    "Only the good die young"

  7. its been 20 years the last time we seen each outher u came to stevston and gave me a ride on your moterbike it seems like yesterday.all the adventures we went on cliff diving in lynn canyon,sking,hiking,or just crusin in the red vw bug playn the stones.when i read the provence on sunday i saw ur pic wow its BIG CINS as i read on i was sadind by what i read i thougt i was going to cry but i didnt all i could remmber was all the good times we had and it made me smile. over the past few days u r all i am thinkn about the world is a smaller place without BIG CINS in it .love ur frend 4 ever dougie xoxo.

  8. I know Cindy from her time in The Netherlands when she (we) worked for Tulip Computers. Recently there was a e-mail for setting up a meet between former co-workers and I found Cindy…not in the way I hoped…

    God Bless Cindy….

    Bart van der Veer

  9. I just read this, thanks to Bart van der Veer. Had no idea…
    Just recently found a picture of Cins and I playing guitar together, in her days in Den Bosch.
    We had a good time back then, hope you have some more good times wherever you are, Cins!