A FIREFIGHTER who helped save the life of a colleague during the Black Summer bushfires has spoken up about her eye-opening experience.
Jess Jacobs, 30, was sent to Grafton for a five-day deployment with the Country Fire Authority to help fight the bushfires late last year when she experienced the "surreal" incident.
"It was really weird, we were fighting the fire together, containing it, and were really in the thick of the smoke so I left to get full lungs of fresh air, and when I went back to the fire I turned around and John just dropped to the ground," Ms Jacobs said.
"I had this immediate gut instinct that something was seriously wrong and ran over to him and felt that he had no pulse.
"I knew it was worst case scenario."
Division Controller John Kennedy suffered a heart attack as the fire continued to burn around them on the remote property.
"It was absolutely surreal, I thought, 'This can't be happening'," Ms Jacobs said.
"But without even thinking, I just threw the hose down, started taking all my gear off like the helmet and mask and overalls, and ran over to him - I didn't have a chance to have a second thought, I just knew I had to help."
In 2016, Ms Jacobs lived in Wagga where she completed her Diploma of Nursing through Cootamundra's TAFE NSW campus. It was her training here that gave her the knowledge and confidence to save Mr Kennedy's life.
"I ripped open his shirt and started compressions, just as my first aid training at TAFE NSW had taught me," she said.
"I was alone with him for the first 10 minutes until another truck arrived with a defibrillator, and I hit him with it six times.
"His pulse returned after 15 minutes but then we lost him again and I was looking around seeing the despair on everyone's faces, but I wasn't giving up."
Ms Jacobs said the team around her was "fantastic" in providing support to both herself and Mr Kennedy.
"We had to call in a mayday, and the entire strike team came and helped," she said.
"Because we were so remote, it was entirely up to us and any kind of professional help was over an hour away."
Mr Kennedy's heart stopped three times before being revived and airlifted to hospital.
The ordeal was a stark reminder of how important knowledge of CPR is, according to Ms Jacobs, who now hopes to push for better education on the matter.
"First aid is an option for firefighters, and most do have training, but not all," she said.
"The matter is actually something I want to push further for and go to the education minister to get more basic first aid into schools."
TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Nursing Cheryl Bradshaw said it was gratifying to see Ms Jacobs use her TAFE NSW skills at such a critical moment.
"Jess is a great example of how the real practical skills and experience that students gain while studying at TAFE NSW will help you get a job and help in a life or death situation," she said.
"There is such great demand for enrolled nurses right now in a variety of settings - aged care, rehab, palliative care, acute settings, specialists wards and more."
Ms Jacobs has recently secured a job as an enrolled nurse in an aged care facility near her home in Victoria, and said she had TAFE NSW to thank.
But her experience saving the life of Mr Kennedy will be something she takes with her forever, and the pair remain good friends.
"John and I had planned to catch up before COVID-19 struck with the whole strike team and his wife, but obviously we had to reschedule," she said.
"I think it will provide some closure for all of us."