Family, friends and colleagues who gathered Jan. 26 agreed it felt like it was just yesterday Carol Schlamp was killed in a tragic ambulance crash.
“There’s a part that will never be the same. It will never forget. In other words, there’s a sliver of grief that remains. It never goes away,” Pete Schlamp, husband and father of their four children Jamie, Michelle, Shawn and Wendy, said.
“When you have something like a memorial like this, then it brings to the surface things you thought you were kind of over. I think we all kind of felt the same there, we felt like ‘wow, now it feels like it happened last week’.”
It has been 25 years since the night of Jan. 26, 1993, when the ambulance Schlamp was traveling in as an attendant slammed into the rock wall of Laidlaw Bluff. She died instantly. Her colleague Scott Romine, driving the ambulance, was brought to Chilliwack General Hospital and survived.
The exact cause of the crash has never been determined, but falling rocks, rocks on the highway, speed and dark, rainy conditions were all pondered after the crash.
“There are lots of unanswered questions from the day that a lot of us have. Anybody that was around at the time,” Larry Kennedy said. He was acting unit chief of the Hope ambulance station at the time of the crash.
“That’s part of the concern, for closure, none of us know one hundred per cent what happened that night.”
Many friends, family and colleagues remember the time after Carol’s death as a blur or a fog.
Ambulance member Barry Stewart said Carol’s death deeply affected him. He was serving his thirteenth year as an on-call driver-attendant when he got the call about the crash.
Stewart remembers the night, dark and stormy, and delivering the news to her husband Pete. He hasn’t taken another call since that night.
“Carol was a respected paramedic, community member and loving wife and mother. Taken way too soon. I stepped away from the service after that day. I never did another shift —but I have total admiration for those who have carried on, serving in Carol’s absence,” he wrote.
Carol’s friend and fellow member of a Bible study group Sandi ten Cate Brouwer may have been one of the last people to see her alive, apart from her ambulance partner.
They had planned to bake buns together that day. Carol got called out so she came by ten Cate Brouwer’s home to reschedule.
“It was the first significant loss for me,” ten Cate Brouwer said, adding the memories of spending time in Carol’s kitchen, baking buns, are some of the fondest memories she holds.
“How she opened up her home and knew that Michelle would take care of the kids just so that her and I could visit, because she knew that was important. She was just so kind and thoughtful and loving. It was a huge loss,” she said.
Kennedy, who has remained in the ambulance service since, remembers her as a paramedic who was in the job for the right reason.
“She was very calm, very reserved. She obviously had a very strong belief…very strong faith and she was just a very calm person, very good at her job” he said.
“One of the people that did the job for the right reasons. She had no interest in screaming around with sirens to a call. She did it kind of as a community service.”
At the time, the ambulance service relied on people who lived locally and were able to step in part-time.
Schlamp hadn’t been with the ambulance service long. After eight months serving in Vanderhoof, Schlamp joined the Hope unit in the fall of 1989. She died at age 38.
Four days after the crash, ambulance personnel lined 3 Avenue in Hope to pay tribute to a fallen colleague. Close to 800 people attended Schlamp’s funeral in what was both a community tragedy and a jarring event for the B.C. ambulance service.
Schlamp was the third member of the service to lose her life while on duty, since then seven more B.C. paramedics have died while performing their life-saving work.
The tragedy hit the Schlamp family hard, Pete Schlamp said, adding it was a difficult few years after her death for him and his four children. He remembers the support he received from the pastor at the Grace Baptist Church at the time, with funeral preparations, comfort and keeping the family fed.
“The church brought us supper for quite some time and at least then we ate. A person doesn’t have much of an appetite when you’re in such grief,” Schlamp said.
He also remembers the ambulance community and church friends coming together to help the family through a devastating time. Schlamp said he is a strong believer in God, this has helped him through the tragedy of losing Carol.
“Grief is difficult but it’s good, it’s necessary. To avoid the difficulty would be to avoid healing. So all of the difficulties are healing, providing you are working with the healing and not against it,” he said.
Kennedy keeps Carol’s memory alive by visiting the site of the crash each year on Jan. 26. He also shares her story with younger ambulance members who weren’t in the service at the time of Schlamp’s death.
“The circumstances are important to remember, for our people and I’m hoping that the young people that didn’t know her will hear about it, realize the story and think of issues,” he said.
“There are all sorts of issues our people need to think about when they’re behind the wheel of an ambulance.”
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