A freak accident on Oct. 19, 2010, resulted in the deaths of two Tofino paramedics.
“That day, I remember waking up and hearing the news as it was coming in about the fact that they lost contact with the crew and where had they gone, so yeah, it’s a sad day that sticks in all of our minds,” said Brian Twaites, paramedics spokesperson for BC Emergency Health Services.
Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka, two long-time paramedics at station 136 in Tofino, were killed when their ambulance veered off a narrow curve on Highway 4, crashing down over 30 metres (100 feet) into the lake below.
At the time, there was only a 30 centimetre curb separating the narrow roadway and a steep drop-off to the lake below.
The crash occurred in the middle of the night as the paramedics returned from a patient transfer to Port Alberni.
They were found after they’d been missing for several hours.
“Jo-Ann actually got me hired into the ambulance service and was a good friend of mine and I started working with Ivan as well,” said friend and co-worker Kathy Sywake. “It sent shockwaves through the ambulance service because it kind of drove home that it could have been any of us.”
Following the crash, there was a huge line of duty honours procession through the streets of Tofino, attended by 3,500 first responders from Canada and the United States.
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Now, 13 years later, a permanent memorial to the two fallen paramedics has been unveiled at the new Kennedy Lake rest stop on Highway 4 where the crash happened.
“I have to say it really did touch me,” said Polivka’s step-son, Fred Webber. “It brings everything back, it’s like it happened yesterday. It was 13 years ago today but it feels like yesterday.”
The poignant ceremony Thursday included a procession of many past and present paramedics at station 136.
The fatal crash was the impetus for long-needed safety improvements to the highway where the crash happened and where the memorial now stands.
The $54 million project was completed in March after nearly 5 years of construction.
There were also changes in EHS protocols that now see regular check-ins between dispatchers and ambulances in remote areas.
“This memorial is really being unveiled today to permanently recognize them in the spot where they lost their lives in the line of duty, which no public safety or paramedic ever should do,” said Troy Clifford, provincial president at Ambulance Paramedics & Dispatchers of BC.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing. I think the placement is great. I mean, this is where it happened, this is where they are, where a lot of us remember them,” added Sywake.
Fuller and Polivka are the ninth and 10th B.C. paramedics to lose their lives in the line of duty.