Nov 08, 2010

Fallen Tofino Paramedics laid to rest at ceremony attended by thousands

TOFINO—In a moving ceremony attended by paramedics, firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel from all over North America, the community of Tofino said goodbye Saturday to Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka, the two paramedics who died in the line of duty on October 19.

John Strohmaier, President of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, CUPE Local 873 gave a moving tribute to Fuller and Polivka, referring often to the more than 37 years experience between the two. During their careers as paramedics in Tofino, both contributed to their community far beyond the call of duty, making them both integral parts of the tight-knit, isolated town.

Strohmaier also reflected on the sad fact that in his ten years as president of the paramedics’ union this was the third memorial for paramedics killed on the job. “Never again,” he said. “We must ensure we never have to say goodbye to someone like this again.”

Representatives of both families gave eulogies, reflecting on how important the well-being of others was to both. The eulogies and tributes painted both paramedics as generous and friendly people who brought happiness and joy to the lives of all who knew them. Both Fuller and Polivka were deeply committed to their professions, and both were recognized for the lives they saved as paramedics, as well as the care and comfort they provided to patients who could not be saved.

The memorial was held in a specially constructed tent—which covered an entire playing field at the local school—as there was no facility large enough for the more than 3,500 mourners who came to pay tribute. The ceremony began with a somber and deeply moving procession of 2 ambulances dressed in black fabric and carrying members of the Fuller and Polivka families, followed by more than 1,000 emergency personnel from across Canada and the United States, including hundreds of BC Ambulance Paramedics.

Hundreds of Tofino residents lined the streets and silently watched the procession go by. Many of the marchers blinked back tears, some more successfully than others, as they passed the Tofino RCMP detachment and saluted the Canadian flag snapping in the breeze at half-mast.

Once marchers and attendees were seated in the enormous tent, Lieutenant Dan McClelland of the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services sang “O Canada.” Reverend John Lowe of the BC Ambulance Paramedics then introduced Hyou-sun-up-shilth First Nation Chief Elmer Frank, who gave greetings and delivered a personal tribute to the paramedics. BC Ambulance Service Superintendent David Valentine, aide-de-camp to Lieutenant Governer Stephen Point spoke next, followed by the provincial minister of health services, who read a letter from the Premier. Tofino Mayor John Fraser spoke on behalf of the community, while Chief Operating Officer Les Fisher represented the BC Ambulance Service.

Paramedic Keith Jamieson, who worked at Tofino Station 136 with Fuller and Polivka, represented their colleagues and spoke movingly of the impact their loss has had. Jo-Ann Fuller’s brother, Bob Hansen, and Ivan Polivka’s stepson Fred Webber spoke next, and both provided sad but occasionally humourous reflections on the personal lives of the two paramedics.

Following the presentation of a flag to both families, the ceremony concluded with a video tribute that played to the tune of Mumford & Sons’ haunting, dirge-like song, “After the Storm.” As the song rose to its pitch and ended, the video closed with the stark image of a paramedic looking at the stretch of the highway above Kennedy Lake where Fuller and Polivka died, while the speakers broadcast audio tape of an ambulance dispatcher saying “136 K1 is 10-7.”

Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka were paramedics at Tofino Station 136. Their ambulance was K-1. “10-7” means the ambulance has reached its destination.

CUPE 873 President John Strohmaier also marched in the procession, along with CUPE National President Paul Moist, CUPE BC President Barry O’Neill, Secretary Treasurer Mark Hancock and General Vice President Paul Faoro. CUPE was also represented by Regional Director Robin Jones, a former paramedic himself. Hospital Employees Union President Ken Robinson attended to show solidarity with the families, the community and paramedics.

“I know I speak for every CUPE member across the country when I say our hearts go out to the Fuller and Polivka families,” said Moist. “This is the first time I have been to Tofino, but it took almost no time at all here to see how close a community it is, and to see how important Jo-Ann and Ivan were to so many. I am sure their families, while reeling from the tragedy, must be heartened to have seen the outpouring of sympathy and support from so many front-line emergency workers, as well as from citizens from all walks of life.”

COPE 491