A sombre ceremony was held in Tofino last week to honour Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka, the beloved West Coast paramedics who died in a tragic ambulance crash on Hwy. 4 ten years ago.
Fuller and Polivka had transported a patient from Tofino to Port Alberni on Oct. 19, 2010, and were on their way home when they lost control of their ambulance and crashed down a cliff into Kennedy Lake.
“I worked personally with Ivan and Jo-Ann for many years and I can honestly say I loved every minute of it,” Tofino’s acting mayor Dan Law said during the last week’s ceremony, held outside Tofino’s BC Ambulance station on Oct. 19.
“Jo-Ann and Ivan were exemplary people, interesting and exemplary. They loved this community, they loved their profession and they really cared about their colleagues and that showed in everything that they did…Many people here on the West Coast owe their lives to Jo-Ann and Ivan.”
The small ceremony was hosted by Ambulance Paramedics of BC and attended by family, friends and local paramedics, as well as representatives from BC Emergency Health Services and the Provincial Health Service Authority.
“To the Fuller and Polivka families, our hearts remain with you as they were 10 years ago and they continue to be with you always,” said Ambulance Paramedics of BC President Troy Clifford. “We will never forget our fallen and the joy and smiles they brought to everyone that they touched…They were always there to care. We’re here again to honour them today.”
He explained the two paramedics had a combined 37 years of dedicated service to the West Coast.
“Jo-Ann was a paramedic, a unit chief, she was a mentor and a leader in her field. On the flip side, she was quite the fisherwoman and a gourmet cook. She had a love of travel and books and was so many things but, above all, she was a wife, a sister, a mother and a grandmother. Her family said at the time that she was the glue that bound them all together,” he said.
“Ivan was a paramedic and colleague who was a mentor and a friend to so many in this community. He had a gift of the arts with his carvings, photography and poetry. He liked to hunt and fish and was an activist and an environmentalist. He was a husband, brother, father and a grandfather. His family remembers him as a strong man with a gentle touch.”
During the ceremony, a monument was unveiled to commemorate Fuller and Polivka, which will be placed at a dedicated roadside rest area near Kennedy Lake once the ongoing Hwy. 4 construction is complete.
“By their very nature, paramedics are driven to help others. They help us in our darkest hour, showing compassion when we’re sick and scared and comfort our loved ones when we can’t be there,” said BCEHS Chief Operating Officer Darlene MacKinnon.
Clifford said that many paramedics “cannot help but become overwhelmed with emotion,” when they drive past Kennedy Lake. He added that the accident prompted a hard look at ambulance protocols.
“I believe our profession has learned from this tragedy. It has forced us to look at how we do our business. It has changed our practices and continued to shape how we deliver patient care and safety. In my mind, it likely has saved some paramedics lives,” he said.
Canadian Paramedic Memorial Foundation president Tom Zanak said 50 Canadian paramedics have died on the job since 1980.
“This monument might have Jo-Ann and Ivan’s name on it but, in a way, it has a little piece of all of us on it. But for a change in fate or fortune, this could have been any one of us. This memorial serves as a reminder of the risks we take everyday,” he said.
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