“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

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - August 1991 -

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

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