National Parks and Wildlife firefighter John Kennedy with Buddy, Kobi and Molly as he recovers at home after suffering a heart attack while fighting fires at Jackadgery on November 28 this year. Photo: Jarrard Potter.
National Parks and Wildlife firefighter John Kennedy with Buddy, Kobi and Molly as he recovers at home after suffering a heart attack while fighting fires at Jackadgery on November 28 this year. Photo: Jarrard Potter.

Firey thanks those who saved his life after heart attack

RECOVERING at home in Grafton and preparing to spend Christmas with family, National Parks and Wildlife firefighter John Kennedy knows things could have been very different if it weren't for his fellow firefighters after he suffered a heart attack while battling bushfire at Jackadgery last month.

Working in difficult terrain trying to contain the Kaloe Mountain Trail fire on November 28 this year, Mr Kennedy was as a divisional commander working on a backburning operation with a number of out of area crews, including resources from the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife, Victorian Country Fire Authority volunteers and other NSW National Parks crews.

"At one particular time I was working with CFA crews and had commenced a backburn to try and contain part of the fire," Mr Kennedy said.

"We had pretty much just started that operation which was to go through most of day into night, probably about an hour into that I was starting to mop up to extinguish the larger logs before they got well alight.

"We were just undertaking a bit of that work to minimise the longer term mop up, just hosing out a log out with one of my CFA counterparts. When that was done we were walking back to the truck with the hose to look at our next job and apparently I just fell face-first into the dust and that's all I can remember for a few hours."

Volunteer firefighters come from all walks of life and give up their time to help others, and luckily for Mr Kennedy, who had just suffered a massive heart attack, his CFA colleague, Jessica Jacobs, was a registered nurse.

Assisted by fellow CFA firefighter Luke Summerscales and National Parks and Wildlife colleague Ashley, they rolled Mr Kennedy over and discovered he had no pulse.

For the next 35 minutes they performed CPR on Mr Kennedy, and it took eight shocks from four defibrillator machines before he regained consciousness.

"I had a blood clot block my heart and it immediately stopped, it was lights out for me," Mr Kennedy said.

"Jess rolled me over and checked my pulse and immediately started CPR on me. During that initial part of process they spoke to another CFA team and said we've got a problem here.

"Numerous people worked on me out of that CFA strike team and National Parks mates give me CPR."

Luke Summerscales (left) and Jessica Jacobs (right) with a very relieved Tony Wall, a close friend of John Kennedy.
Luke Summerscales (left) and Jessica Jacobs (right) with a very relieved Tony Wall, a close friend of John Kennedy.

 

Once Mr Kennedy regained consciousness, the next challenge was getting him out of the active fireground.

The area the crews were operating in was remote, and access by ambulance was all but impossible. Even the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter had difficulty in locating Mr Kennedy, let alone rescuing the 52-year-old.

"Another chopper that was working in area had to hover above me, giving assistance to direct the Westpac chopper to my exact location, and work out a good extraction point and how to do that," Mr Kennedy said.

"I was very very lucky a whole range of people did their jobs to save one of their fellow firefighters."

Eventually a NSW Ambulance critical care paramedic was winch inserted into the location, where Mr Kennedy was stabilised.and transported to Gold Coast University Hospital in a serious but stable condition.

After a week in hospital, and a week on the Gold Coast recovering close by, Mr Kennedy said he was grateful to be home for Christmas.

"The recover is going as good as can be expected, I'm still pretty worn out and a bit slow getting around the traps but that'll get better, the main thing is I'm still here to tell the story," he said.

"I'm just really lucky these folks were well trained, they were willing to help me out because it wouldn't have been real pretty and they just kept at it."

HERE'S CHEERS: Jessica Jacobs and Luke Summerscales wishing John Kennedy a speedy recovery after coming to his aid when he had a heart attack at Jackadgery battling a bush fire.
HERE'S CHEERS: Jessica Jacobs and Luke Summerscales wishing John Kennedy a speedy recovery after coming to his aid when he had a heart attack at Jackadgery battling a bush fire.


A firefighter of 24 years, Mr Kennedy said his rescue was a result of the planning and training the crews had undertaken to be able to respond to any scenario.

"Jess and Luke and Ashley were my first responders, but they were the front row of a whole team of firefighters and Incident Management Team staff and support services that worked together to orchestrate my extraction and recovery," he said.

"I am truly grateful to them all for not giving up on me and following their training.

"It makes me truly proud of what we can do as Australians when we work together. no badges, just get in and get the job done. Let's remember this as we need to work together to help each other recover from fires and drought."



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