Hero firefighter leads volcano rescue

By 20th February 2018 No Comments

A back-packing West Midlands firefighter has coordinated the rescue of a woman who fell 40 metres into the crater of an active volcano.

West Midlands firefighter John Conway

John Conway, who’s based at Highgate Community Fire Station in Birmingham, was on a sunrise trek to the top of Mount Batur on the Indonesian island of Bali when the early-morning drama unfolded.

The firefighter, who turned 33 during his solo holiday, was recovering from the ascent and preparing for the spectacular views, when he heard that the woman had somehow fallen from a viewing platform into the crater.

Speaking from the island, from where he’s due to fly back later this week, John said: “I explained I was a firefighter and trauma-trained, and I was directed down into the crater where there were about four or five other people already with the woman.

“She was clearly in a very bad way. She was bleeding a lot and turning blue. I found out there was no air ambulance and the first aid supplies were really poor. All I had to use were some wet wipes, tissues and tape.”

John worked for around 30 minutes to stem the casualty’s bleeding, before he was joined in the crater by a nurse who was also on the trek. He also asked people to take off their shirts and coats to keep the casualty warm, and he kept pinching her arm to keep her conscious.

Other trekkers then helped to form a human chain and, using a stretcher which someone had fetched from further down the volcano, they began nearly an hour’s effort to raise the injured woman from the crater.

But that was only the start of their race against time to get her to an ambulance at the bottom of the 5,600ft volcano. It took them a further five hours, taking turns in groups, to carefully carry the patient and complete the descent.

“She was obviously in severe pain and the nurse and I were worried she might have spinal injuries, but she never once complained.

Mount Batur (Photo: Bali Tourism Board)

“We paused every ten minutes so the nurse and I could speak to her and stop her losing consciousness.” Once they reached the ambulance – an estate car with just a driver and no paramedics – they learned that the nearest hospital was two hours away.

“The nurse and I went with her, and I was crouched in the back of the ambulance the whole way. It was a nightmare journey. What little oxygen there was ran out half way, and we had to stop for fuel,” John added.

But they eventually arrived at the hospital and the nurse was able to fully brief the staff who took over the young woman’s care.

Her injuries included several broken bones and fractured ribs, a fractured spine, a serious head injury and a broken nose.

John said: “Given the state in which we found her, and the extent of her injuries, it’s a miracle she survived. It’s unbelievable.

“She’s still in hospital, but she’s managed to get thanks to me for what we were able to do. We’ll be keeping in touch but the important thing for now is that she gets well and flies home as soon as she can.”

John’s Watch Commander, Chris Gauntlett, praised his remarkable actions: “John has been a firefighter for eight years and has been with us for a year after moving from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service. I’m not at all surprised to hear that he did everything he could to help this young woman.

“All of our firefighters are trauma-trained, and John is among those who take part in competitive challenges against other fire stations and brigades to hone their skills. It sounds like he certainly put those skills into practice and has proved that we’re never really off duty, even on holiday.

“I’ve managed to have a brief chat with him to check he’s OK, and we’re looking forward to welcoming him back to the station.”

All photos and video unless otherwise stated: Firefighter John Conway, West Midlands Fire Service