Pathways and Vocational Education (PAVE) Nursing and Health Technical Officer, Jessica Jacobs has received a CFA Chief Officer’s Commendation award for courage in recognition of her actions in saving the life of a fellow firefighter during the 2019-2020 bushfire season, also known as the Black Summer bushfires.
The award was presented to Ms Jacobs and her team member, Luke Summerscales, in November 2020 for ‘service carried out under conditions which demand considerable self-discipline without thought of personal recognition’.
“It feels incredibly humbling to have received the award as I just did was needed at the time,” says Ms Jacobs.
Both Ms Jacobs and Mr Summerscales volunteered as firefighters in late 2019 to help with the bushfires in New South Wales. “Growing up, I lived in a high bushfire prone area, so I had always been interested in the emergency services. I enjoy being there for my community and making a positive difference while they’re going through the worst times of their lives,” Ms Jacobs explains.
Their actions in saving the life of divisional commander, John Kennedy, made headlines around the world, including in Time magazine.
In her words
Ms Jacobs and her team were conducting a backburn – deliberately starting fires under controlled conditions to clear out low-lying flammable material – in a remote area of the Kaloe Mountain fire when the divisional commander collapsed from a heart attack.
“I ran straight over and just had this instant gut feeling that it was a worse-case scenario. I felt no pulse, so I immediately ripped John’s shirt and commenced CPR and asked my fellow firefighters to do a MAYDAY call and get an automated external defibrillators (AED) from the CFA fire truck,” says Ms Jacobs.
The team was on an incredibly dusty and steep bulldozer track in the dirt surrounded by live fire as this was happening.
“Unfortunately, we lost John’s pulse, so we continued CPR and using the AED. Although we were able to get him back for a second time, we lost John’s pulse again, this time he was out for a substantial period,” Ms Jacobs continues.
“The look of despair was evident on the faces of the other firefighters around us, but there was never any thought of giving up. The team got him back again, and it was incredible to see his improvement after 45 minutes of CPR – from being unconscious and having very laboured breathing to becoming conscious and eventually talking and laughing with us.”
Due to the remote location of the team, they had to use the latitude and longitude angles to let 000 know where they were. “The sight and sound of the Westpac rescue helicopter reaching us was an emotional moment for all of us, help was finally here!” Ms Jacobs recalls.
“The Strike team that we were part of had come to us to help as a result of the MAYDAY call. They helped administer CPR, put out the fire near us, changed a tyre, helped minimise the dust and met the ambulance to guide them to us. Once John was stable and the team had helped the ambulance officers get the winch harness and helmet on him, he walked to the waiting vehicle to transport him to the area where he could be taken up in the rescue helicopter.”
John has made an incredible recovery after emergency surgery and is now back with his family and at work.
Increasing awareness of basic first aid
In hindsight, Ms Jacobs believes that her CPR training, knowledge of using an AED and the incredible team effort helped them achieve such a successful outcome.
“I’m incredibly passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of knowing basic first aid, CPR and the use of AEDs. You never know when something may happen and someone needs medical assistance. Having basic first-aid knowledge means you can effectively assist someone in an emergency to prevent further injury,” she says.
“I’m grateful to have been able to help make a positive change to an amazing man’s life and I now have this special bond with my firefighter colleagues,” Ms Jacobs adds.