October 29, 2010 at 3:14 PM
Paramedics’ Memorial Could Be “The Biggest” In Tofino’s History
29/10/2010 13:08:00 Keven Drews
By Keven Drews TOFINO — Planning is well underway for a Nov. 6 memorial for two fallen paramedics, a memorial that is expected to draw at least 3,500 mourners and could be one of the biggest in the town’s history.
Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka died Oct. 19 when their ambulance left Highway 4, jumped a short barrier, tumbled down a steep embankment and ended up in Kennedy Lake.
A public memorial for both paramedics will take place Nov. 6 at 1 p.m. on Wickaninnish elementary school’s playing fields. A private funeral service for Fuller has already taken place.
“No, I’d have to say this is certainly the biggest I’ve seen that way,” said Ken Gibson, 75, a longtime resident who was born in Tofino and who at the age of 16 began digging graves by hand.
Gibson said one of the largest funerals he saw in the area took place decades ago when a teenage boy named Irving MacLeod was electrocuted while helping out his father.
Back then the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet were much smaller – not the thousands of residents they are now – but hundreds turned out for the funeral.
Back then only family and close friends attended such services. Now, said Gibson, people who wear the same uniform turnout.
“We’re planning for 3,500 people,” said William “BJ” Chute, of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.
Chute said the memorial’s organizers – which include the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. and the B.C. Ambulance Service – have invited Premier Gordon Campbell, Kevin Falcon, minister of health, and B.C. Lt. Gov. Steven L. Point.
Point won’t be able to attend, said Chute, but Campbell and Falcon have not yet confirmed their attendance.
Also invited are Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Barry O’Neil, CUPE’s B.C. president, John Strohmaier, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. and Les Fisher, chief operating officer for the B.C. Ambulance Service.
Chute said paramedics from Seattle, New Brunswick and Winnipeg have confirmed their attendance, and a majority of Kimberley, B.C.’s ambulance paramedics will attend.
Four Kimberley residents – including two paramedics – died after an accident at the decommission Sullivan Mine in May 2006.
Chute said more than 4,000 attended that memorial, and this memorial could reach those numbers.
Chute said a parade of emergency-services personnel will form up on a gravel road between the school and Tofino General Hospital, march down Campbell Street to Fourth Street and back up to the school’s playing fields for the service, which will be officiated by Rev. John Lowe, chaplain for the B.C. Ambulance Paramedics.
Chute said he expects the memorial service will take about two hours and will be followed by a reception.
Organizers have hired eight busses to bring mourners to Tofino and can hire more, said Chute.
“We’ll be bussing a majority of people in and bussing them out on the same day,” he added.
Information on lodging for uniformed members has been sent out, said Chute.
“I’ve never, in my 31 years, I’ve never seen or been involved in anything near this,” said Brad
Dusseault, principal of Wickaninnish elementary school.
Brian Fuller, Jo-Ann’s husband, teaches at Wickaninnish elementary.
Dusseault said maintenance workers have begun building a new gravel sidewalk that will run along the outside of the school’s gym, down to the playing fields.
Electricians have also been inside the electrical room, focusing on upgrades.
Dusseault said he’s also heard memorial planners will bring in a 1,800-square-metre tent, requiring anchor spikes of more than one metre in length.
“Any way the school district and the school can help out, we will,” said Dusseault.
John Frank, chief councillor for the Ahousaht First Nation, said the band will send representatives to the memorial but will make final decisions Monday.
Frank lauded Fuller and Polivka for their service.
“It really hit our community in a big way,” he said. “It struck us.”
He said some community members even cried when they found out about the deaths.
Frank said Fuller trained more than 100 Ahousat residents in first aid, and in several cases used her own money to buy food for hungry patients.
“I don’t know if even in my lifetime I’ve crossed paths with a human being like that,” he said.
Scott Fraser, NDP MLA for Alberni-Pacific Rim, said he will attend the memorial.
“Both Jo-Ann and Ivan were friends of our community who gave thanklessly of themselves and they’ll be dearly missed by people of Tofino and of course all of their peers in the BC Ambulance Service.”