Paramedics honour colleagues killed on duty with 24-hour vigil

Paramedics Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka were returning to Tofino from a call to Port Alberni’s West Coast General Hospital in 2010 when their ambulance plunged into Kennedy Lake.

Driving by the spot where they died is never easy, said John Wright, company sergeant-major for the B.C. Ambulance Service Provincial Honour Guard.

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“It’s a very eerie feeling,” he said. “If there was ever the worst place that that could happen, it was there.

“It was the highest and least-protected area.”

Wright spoke Tuesday from the memorial for fallen paramedics at the rear of the legislature, where a 24-hour vigil was being held. The memorial was unveiled on May 6, 2015, and paramedics held their first 24-vigil last year.

The vigil will be an annual event, Wright said. “We’re paying homage to our fallen.”

Ten paramedics have died in the line of duty since 1988 in B.C.

Among them are Shawn Currier and Kim Weitzel, who died in 2006 responding to a report of a person in trouble in Kimberley’s decommissioned Sullivan lead-zinc mine.

They were among four people who died from lack of oxygen.

This year’s vigil ran from 5 p.m. Monday until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Twelve sentries took turns standing at the memorial, their hands crossed and their head bowed as a sign of respect. They changed position every half-hour.

Wright said members of the honour guard come from the approximately 4,300 paramedics in B.C., and all are serving paramedics with two to 39 years of experience.

He said he has been a paramedic for 20 years, largely on Vancouver Island, and knows the challenges the job can present.

“It’s a tough line of work,” he said. “This is a service to the province that is done 24-7, 365 [days a year] in various conditions.”

The nature of the job can cause paramedics to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions, Wright said.

“There’s much more awareness to that now and there are so many more vehicles for treatment for our members,” he said.

“We have members of the honour guard who have, unfortunately, been affected by the line of work, and their involvement in the provincial honour guard is therapeutic.”

Also named on the memorial are Michael Gray, Andreas (Andy) Goedicke, Wendy Thompson, Carolyn Schlamp, Theresa Bond and Tony Sunderland.

Funding for the memorial came from B.C. Emergency Health Services and the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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