Cairns Post | 22nd June 2019

AIRNS firefighters might need the jaws of life to pry Royd Kennedy out of the station after his final shift.

Tomorrow marks the day before his 65th birthday and closes the chapter on an incredible 44-year career.

Almost 30 years ago, while working in his native New Zealand, Mr Kennedy became a national hero when he ran beneath a burning fuel tanker to save the life of a 12-year-old girl trapped below.

He lay beside her for an hour, willing her to stay alive and promising to take her horseriding if they survived.

He still carries the scars, but said that moment also shaped him mentally and literally ignited a fire inside him which is seeing him struggle with the concept of retirement.

“It made me a different person,” he said.

“It made me think I had another crack at life.

“I sat there for an hour waiting for my head to be blown up.”

He and the young girl, Shirley Young, who is now 41 and living on the Gold Coast, still keep in contact through Facebook.

It has now been 17 years since he and wife Vanessa moved to Cairns and he spent most of that time working out of Smithfield police station.

Firefighters are required to retire at 65, but there will be no caravan purchases and grey nomading for the Kennedy family – there is still work to be done.

Mr Kennedy said he was now setting up a business providing emergency response training to businesses.

“I want to work between Australia, Papua New Guinea, anywhere my expertise takes me,” he said. “I hate retirement, I hate ageing.

“I just can’t sit still. I won’t be sitting in front of the TV.”

Aside from the tanker fire, which earned him a George Medal for Valour in NZ, Mr Kennedy struggled to single out career highlights.

“Being an adventure seeker, anything I do is a highlight,” he said. “I go looking for adventure.”