“It was the worst hour of my life”
August 2018 marked 28 years since New Zealander Royd Kennedy, 64, bravely saved a little girl’s life
I vividly remember the terrifying explosions of the biggest fire of my life, and seeing a little hand amidst it all. A voice screamed, “Help me!” I ran into the fire and found a girl with terrified eyes, like saucers.
Following protocol I should never have gone in, but I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d left her alone to die. She was looking into my eyes with a desperate hope.
There’s a fireman’s code that you don’t get involved emotionally with people from incidents. But this one was different. It was incredible we were both alive. When Shirley was well enough, we had a big celebration with her whole family. They presented me with a jade pendant that they had cut in two:
one half for Shirley and the other for me. It is still one of my most treasured possessions.
Shirley and I became good friends and we still check in with each other. Seeing her happily married with three kids of her own, and living with her mum, is fantastic.
As for me, my life changed forever. I might have come out without a scratch, but I collapsed from the strain. There was enormous pressure on me to be a ‘hero’ under
intense media scrutiny. I was 36 and just a normal bloke, but suddenly everyone wanted a piece of me. I had no training about how to handle the situation.
To get a break I took a job for a year with the United Nations and worked in Bosnia. But it was still just too much pressure. I stopped socialising and became a recluse. My marriage fell apart. Eventually I moved to Australia to start a new life with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, where I still serve as a frontline fire officer.
I am retiring in June 2019 after 44 years of firefighting and emergency service work. I’m a bit greyer, but that’s life. More importantly, I’m still here, and so is Shirley. AS TOLD TO KATHY BUCHANAN