VICTORIA—Ambulance paramedics put their lives at risk every day and cannot be thanked enough for the critical role they play in emergency health services. That message was loud and clear during a solemn dedication ceremony, held in the provincial capital on Wednesday (May 6), to memorialize the ten paramedics who have died on the job since the BC Ambulance Service was established in 1974.
The granite memorial, funded by BC Emergency Health Services and the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, was unveiled on the south lawn of the provincial Legislature, where it now joins similar memorials for firefighters and law enforcement officials. Hundreds attended the dedication ceremony, including the families and friends of the fallen ten; CUPE 873 members past and present; and officials from the BC Ambulance Service, BC Emergency Health Services, Provincial Health Services Authority, and Emergency Medical Assistance Licensing Board.
CUPE BC President Mark Hancock, Secretary-Treasurer Paul Faoro, and General Vice-President Trevor Davies were also in attendance.
House Speaker Linda Reid presided over the formal ceremony, which included a marching honour guard of CUPE 873 ambulance paramedics led by bagpipes, the singing of “O Canada” and “God Save the Queen,” and a trumpet rendition of “The Last Post.” Minister of Health Terry Lake and Official Opposition Leader John Horgan assisted with the unveiling.
Memorial inspires bittersweet emotions
“I imagine that many of you here today would agree with me that today’s line-of-duty death memorial provokes many bittersweet emotions within,” said CUPE 873 President Bronwyn Barter, her own voice shaking with emotion.
“Sweet because of what an honourable and amazing tribute [it is] to recognize our ten fallen paramedics in B.C. who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Yet bitter because it still hurts. These tragic losses occurred while these members were on duty, at work, proudly serving the public. Let no one underestimate the dangers that British Columbia’s paramedics face every day on the job. This, for us and our families, is a painful reminder of the reality of the hazards of our profession.”
During his remarks, Minister Lake read the names that appear on the memorial: C.A. (Tony) Sunderland, Theresa Hunt (Bond), Carolyn May Schlamp, Wendy Ann Thompson, Andreas (Andy) Goedicke, Shawn Michael Courier, Kim Karlene Weitzel, Michael Scott Gray, Jo-Ann Dorothea Fuller, and Ivan Polivka.
“These ten women and men, along with the thousands of paramedics throughout B.C., choose their profession because of their desire to serve their communities through emergency medicine,” said Lake.
“Our paramedics have world-class skills, coordination, professionalism, and above all, compassion....
There are no words that adequately convey the respect, the pride, and the appreciation we owe to our paramedics and other first responders who put their own lives at risk so that we may have the health and security that we so often take for granted. This is why, when we lose a paramedic in the line of duty, it is profoundly felt in families, communities, and throughout the medical profession.”
Honouring community service and selflessness
Horgan noted that, while the ceremony was a sombre occasion, it was also a great day to celebrate community service and selflessness.
“Without people giving back, we would not be the civil society that we all want here in British Columbia. Were it not for paramedics, the ten that have fallen, we would have been diminished as a society,” said the BC NDP leader.
“This tribute is modest compared to what we all owe those who have lost their lives in the service of community. This is a wonderful day to celebrate ten courageous individuals and also to celebrate all those who put their life on the line every day to defend the rights and privileges of the people of British Columbia.”
Carl Roy, president of the Provincial Health Services Authority, noted that it’s easy to take for granted how many British Columbians benefit from the work of ambulance paramedics: so far in 2015, he said, APBC have provided care to more than 170,000 British Columbians.
“They help us when we’re sick, they show compassion when we’re scared, they care for our loved ones when we cannot,” said Roy. “But these ten names engraved in this granite monument remind us that paramedics are not invincible. Sadly, the families of Ivan, Jo-Ann, Michael, Kim, Shawn, Andy, Wendy, Carol, Theresa, and Tony understand this hard fact far too well.”
Solidarity brings comfort
Barter, who spoke about each of the fallen ten and the tragic events that took their lives, also took time to thank the many courageous ambulance paramedics who arrived at the scenes to attempt to save their lives and assisted in the aftermath.
“As I look around at the different faces present here today it makes me think of how we have all mourned together and how we have shared some very personal and very intimate moments,” said Barter. Citing one example, she recalled the events following the deaths of Fuller and Polivka, whose ambulance drove through an embankment and tumbled into Kennedy Lake in 2010.
“Just before Jo-Ann and Ivan’s memorial, the Kimberley crew [who] had experienced the loss of Shawn and Kim in 2006 rented a van, they drove all night and they arrived to lend a hand of support and understanding to the Tofino crew. No introductions were necessary and few words were spoken—they were just there. I can tell you, the few words that were spoken were powerful: ‘We’re sorry you’re going through this as a crew. We have been there. You will make it through this, as we did.’”
Barter noted how appropriate it was to place the memorial on the grounds of the legislature, where the BC Ambulance Service was established 41 years ago. After thanking everyone who worked on the memorial, she concluded with a reading of “The Monument,” a poem by retired LAPD Sgt. George Hahn that appears on the California Peace Officers Memorial:
I never dreamed it would be me
My name for all eternity
Recorded here at this hallowed place
Alas, my name, no more my face
"In the line of duty" I hear them say
My family now the price will pay
My folded flag stained with their tears
We only had those few short years
The badge no longer on my chest
I sleep now in eternal rest
My sword I pass to those behind
And pray they keep this thought in mind
I never dreamed it would be me
And with heavy heart and bended knee
I ask for all here from the past
Dear God, let my name be the last
Visit the photo gallery for additional photos.