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Burnt to a Crisp – But Alive Thanks to the RFDS

19 Dec 17
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The following experience has been very kindly written and submitted by Jay Mckinlay of ‘The Travelling Housesitters’. All about the amazing Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

RFDS plane. Courtesy WikiMedia Creative Commons – Share Alike 3.0 Australia License. Att: Bidgee

My name is Jay. I am a 28 year old New Zealander who has spent the most part of the past nine years slowly travelling around the world, experiencing different countries, cultures and working different jobs. Many, many different jobs.

One particular job was working on a farm smack bang in the middle of southern Western Australia. The nearest town, Ravensthorpe, was about 80 kilometres away. I was living and travelling with my friend Cam, from back in New Zealand. We had met up on the Gold Coast a few months previously to starting this job. This is where I had my experience with the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

It was Monday April 16th. The boss had gone away on a long awaited family holiday up north in the Pilbara, before the seeding season started. We had a decent list of work to get through over the next two weeks and were eager to get started making our way through the list. There was a lot of general clean up and farm maintenance to do. One job stood out and looked like a lot of fun. Knocking down and burning off some trees that were in the middle of one of the paddocks.

We jumped in the truck and loader and made the 30 minute drive over to paddock number 17 where the trees needed to be taken care of. I got in the loader and started taking down the trees and scraping them into a pile and Cam got the petrol/diesel mix ready to doust on the fire to get it going. Without any hiccup we lit the first pile and the stack of trees erupted into flame and burned away.

The fire with machinery in background

‘After the first stack was alight we worked away at the second pile, using the same process again. However, this time I didn’t see Cam doust the pile in the petrol/diesel mix. Boy-o-boy was I wrong! Just as I struck the match, I noticed on the tree that branches were dripping with the deadly mix. 

Just as I struck the match I heard Cam yelling out – but it was too late. All around me erupted into a big fireball. I was shot back two or three metres where I blacked out for a second before coming to – I was screaming and rolling around on the hard and sharp stubble of last year’s crops. 

Listen people – at school, when they teach you to STOP, DROP AND ROLL, they are not joking – this method is extremely effective for putting yourself out.

I was burnt to a crisp. My face, my chest, right arm, my back and right leg were in agony. Being a summer’s day in Western Australia, it was 40 odd degrees celsius and we were only wearing work boots, work shorts and sunglasses. So everything was exposed and ready for a roasting.

‘Cam came running over to me. At this point I was still in agony, shock and very unsure about what had just happened. The pain was almost too much to handle. I couldn’t think, talk or even start to fathom what to do.

‘Cam, being the quick thinker that he is, doused his t-shirt with our drinking water and told me to hold that on my face, which was, at this point, felt like it was half gone. We jumped back into the work truck and Cam drove the old girl as fast as humanly possible back tot he farm house. Neither of us had ever experienced burns before and we had no idea what to do. Cam suggested we turn the shower on and I sat in there while he phoned the local hospital, which was about an hour and a half drive away. They advised they would send an ambulance but it would be at least an hour. 

This was not an option – we told the hospital we were driving there – NOW.

Next minute, we had a couple of ice packs on my face and we were driving the boss’ new work ute 200 kilometres per hour down state highway 40, towards Ravensthorpe.

Updating the hospital on my condition along the way, we reached the hospital in record time. Running inside I started yelling: “I’m the guy with the burns. I need some help!” They quickly checked me out and put me back in a cold shower. By this time I had come out of shock and could string a sentence together and almost think straight. After an hour in the shower I was advised I needed to get out of the shower, in case hypothermia set in (even though it still felt like I was on fire).

‘The doctor gave me a thorough check out and explained to me there was a plane flying in from Perth and I would be getting picked up in about four hours. I asked if they could just give me some burn cream and send me home. This was met with a very serious: “No, Jayden, your condition is actually quite serious. You are going to need surgery.”  My heart sank. I was in so much pain and running on so much adrenalin I was unaware of my current state. 40% of my body was badly burned. I really did need some help.

The good news was that there was some morphine on the way for me. Finally, the four hours of agony were about to come to an end. The next couple of hours went by fast with the help of the pain relief. I was advised that there was an ambulance outside and it was to take me to a road about 30 minutes away where the RFDS could land the plane to take me to Royal Perth Hospital.

Wrapped up in bandages and nearly ready to go

‘I was wrapped up in bandages and set off in the ambulance. The ride was over in no time. We parked up the side of the road and after about five minutes I could hear a plane. The plane landed on the dirt road and came to a stop next to the ambulance. By this stage, details get a little vague as the morphine was doing its job really, really well.

‘I was loaded into the plane and was advised I would be landing in Perth in about one and a half hours, where another ambulance would be collecting me and taking me to the Royal Perth Hospital’s Burns Unit. The best in the southern hemisphere.

Right hand after surgery.

We took off on the bumpy dirt road and we were shortly enroute to Perth. I know I was chatting away to the doctor that was in the back with me – however, I could not tell you what I was saying. About 40 minutes into the flight I was informed we would be making a detour – there was an older gentleman who had had a car accident and was in desperate need of being collected. As I was now happily in my little morphine world I thought this was great! More flying time! We collected the gentleman and were back enroute. The rest of the flight went without any further delays and we landed at Perth airport and I was whisked away to the Royal Perth Hospital where I was greeted by my dad. Who, coincidentally, had flown into Perth from New Zealand that evening, for work up north. It still amazes me how things work out and he was there for me.

Right side after surgery

‘Now fast forward five years. I am all recovered from the accident. The work that was done on my face by Fiona Stanley was nothing short of remarkable. To this date, you cannot tell that I was ever burned. All the bills from the ambulances, plane, surgery and four weeks in hospital added up to around $AU500,000.00. I like to claim I am a half-million-dollar man! Now I don’t want to get deep and sound cliche, but having an experience such as this has made me appreciate everything in my life. It has also made me want to keep travelling, exploring and doing what I love.

‘Right now, I am writing this from the international departures terminal five at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, waiting to board a flight to Bangkok. I am travelling with my partner, Brittnay. Together we form ‘The Travelling Housesitters’ and we travel the world pet sitting, exploring and having fun.’







Thank you so much for this, Jay. A fascinating read and giving the world a bit of an idea of how medical emergencies can be treated in Australia’s rural and remote areas.







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