By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
CAYUGA—After 16 years working together, Haldimand paramedics Marie Sopko and Ched Zivic work together seamlessly. This proved to be very valuable when they responded to a call last year in Cayuga that required them to take on the role of firefighter, all while trying to convince a shocked resident to accept treatment.
“We got called out Code 4, which is the highest priority…. We weren’t told what it was because I don’t think they knew at the time,” said Sopko. They arrived on scene first and were greeted by a woman at the gated driveway. “We found a gentleman running in and out of the house carrying embers with rubber gloves on, which have melted into his hands, throwing these hot ashes and embers onto the back porch. Cheddy goes inside, I follow him in, and the house is completely blown apart.”
Zivic approached the man first, “He was very excited, to say the least. I could see he had burns to his face, it was all singed and red. He had lost his hair.”
“We learned later he had this five-kilo keg of compressed gun powder. I guess he was making shotgun shells, and there was a mixture of things that didn’t really like each other very much and it went boom,” continued Zivic.
“The wife was sitting above him (upstairs) on the couch and the explosion threw her across the room, pushed everything over, and I guess the floor must have rippled and the wood stove, which was in use, flipped over.”
By this point fires had sprouted in the home and on the porch. Sopko got a fire extinguisher to put out the porch fire before handing it to Zivic, who used it to put out the fire inside. While the immediate danger was over, the man did not want to leave to receive treatment.
“As we were speaking to him, his face was getting redder and redder,” said Zivic. Along with the burns, the paramedics wanted to ensure the man’s airways were clear and that there was no internal damage.
Ultimately the pair was able to convince the man to accept treatment and he was transported to West Haldi-mand General Hospital before being transferred to a burn unit by helicopter.
“And he’s home now. He’s been steadily fixing it up,” said Zivic.
When asked what it was like to be the first responder on scene, not knowing what is happening yet, Sopko said, “You go in. That’s our job.”
“That’s what we do,” added Zivic. “You have to be very scene-safety conscious. Everything looked stable.”
Sopko noted that while they didn’t know the extent of the damage, even looking back they wouldn’t change anything: “We’ve talked about it. Even if we had known, would it have made a difference? No. We would have went in. That’s just how we’re wired.”
Zivic noted that they have “a sixth sense” when something doesn’t feel right and they wait for the police, but that “doesn’t happen very often”.
Sopko and Zivic, who have been paramedics for 17 and 40 years respectively, have been given multiple awards for their response that day, including the Ontario Award for Paramedic Bravery on October 22, 2019 at Queen’s Park.
When asked how it felt to be recognized in this way, Sopko said, “Good. I like it.”
While Zivic doesn’t share her enthusiasm for the public recognition, he still went along for the ride: “She was excited, and I did it for her.”
Having lost a Haldimand paramedic recently, the two agreed: “We would like to dedicate our awards and the article to all the fallen paramedics.”
Zivic notes that while things have gotten better over the years, from better GPS technologies for finding scenes to better safety features on vehicles for fewer deaths, it’s still a difficult job.
“Things have changed. Don’t have near as many people getting killed now, and when they do get killed it’s catastrophic…. Plus, the training and all the rest of it has improved,” said Zivic. However, he noted shift work creates physical strain and stressful situations can create mental strain. He believes this is being further compounded by Haldimand’s growing population, which puts additional pressure on the system, and therefore the paramedics, to cover everything.
“It’s not an easy job and we’ve all lost coworkers,” said Sopko.
“This job especially, you gotta like what you’re doing. Take the good with the bad,” continued Zivic. He added that the different mixture of what you cover in a day helps keep you going, but ultimately, “I enjoy coming back just to hang out with Marie. You share so much…. When I retire, something I’m going to miss is the people I work with. It’s difficult to turn ‘this’ off. We’re lucky, Marie and I have always had a very open line of communication whenever we’ve had bad calls. That’s one of the things you need to cope with everything that goes on.”
“We’re small enough here that we’re definitely like a family,” added Sopko, who calls Zivic her work husband, spending 84 hours every two weeks plus overtime together. “We fight like a family, we do, but when the chips are down, like we’re going through right now –“
“You rally,” finished Zivic.