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Canberra firefighters thanked nearly 20 years after saving toddler hit by mother's car

First responders Justin Morrison and Joe Box with Jewel East, 17 years after they rescued her after her mother, Elissa East, accidentally drove her car into their house. Picture: Elesa Kurtz. Inset, Jewel after the accident.
First responders Justin Morrison and Joe Box with Jewel East, 17 years after they rescued her after her mother, Elissa East, accidentally drove her car into their house. Picture: Elesa Kurtz. Inset, Jewel after the accident.

Nearly two decades after Canberra teenager Jewel East was injured after her mother accidentally drove a car into their home, the family has thanked the first responders whose life-saving skills meant Jewel, a toddler at the time, could continue telling her story today.

On Tuesday, the family paid tribute to the firefighters for their heroics in July 2004 when they were first on scene at MacArthur.

Jewel's mother, Elissa East, said the incident had "affected our family a great deal" and that she needed counselling over the years.

"We talked about it over the years and always talked about firefighters and how they were first on the scene," Mrs East said.

"Every time I see firefighters, I feel a huge debt of gratitude."

Mrs East said she had always wanted to thank them but never knew how to arrange it until recently after speaking to a friend.

In thanking the firefighters - Justin Morrison, Joe Box and Paul Owens - Mrs East said they made it possible to have Jewel to remain in their lives.

"She's very lucky to be alive," she said.

"Another 5-10 minutes later and if the firefighters weren't there at the time, who knows what the outcome would've been."

As for Jewel, she has no memory of the incident but said she thanked the firefighters, ambulance and other emergency services who helped her recovery.

"If they hadn't been there, I wouldn't have anything to remember because I wouldn't be here," the 17-year-old said.

Jewel said the incident left a lasting impact on her mother who still struggled to be in a car.

First responders Justin Morrison and Joe Box with Jewel East, 17 years after they rescued her after her mother, Elissa East, accidently drove her car into their house. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

First responders Justin Morrison and Joe Box with Jewel East, 17 years after they rescued her after her mother, Elissa East, accidently drove her car into their house. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Her father, Adam East, who was not home at the time of the incident, left with Jewel in an ambulance to hospital.

Mr East said the family was "extremely grateful" and had a "swell of gratitude" for all first responders because they deal with high-pressured and stressful environments every day.

Justin Morrison, one of three firefighters at the scene in 2004 and Chisholm Fire Station officer, said it was fortunate they were based only around the corner.

"When we turned up, we saw a car through a wall and didn't think it was going to end too well," he said.

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Mr Morrison said hearing the cries of Jewel meant a sigh of relief as it meant she was breathing. Once they saved Jewel and removed her from danger, they also checked on Elissa's welfare.

"Like any job, we have a process to follow. We identify hazards and deal with them, then work out who was where and the risks of structural collapse as well," he said.

"We appreciate the family coming out ... as we don't always know what happens to families after an incident. We take comfort in the fact that we've done the best in helping someone."

Similarly, fellow rescuer Joe Box, now senior firefighter at the station, said first responders "love what we do".

"Some jobs are worse than others, but as it turns out, it wasn't as bad as it could've been. It all ended well," he said.

"I suppose we're the ones trying to be calm in those situations.

"It's a great outcome and it's great to meet these people. We thank them as well."

The coming together of the family and the firefighters who helped saved Jewel's life comes one day before Thank a First Responder Day on Wednesday.

The initiative aims to help reconnect emergency services personnel with those they have helped as part of wellbeing activities and counselling services.

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This story Jewel is lucky to be alive, and her family is extremely grateful first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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