Recognition for a hero: Blue Springs high school student's quick thinking rescues couple

By Bill Althaus

Kellen Heinzman has never worn a cape, subdued an arch villain with a well-placed karate kick or leaped a tall building in a single bound.

But the Blue Springs South Junior ROTC Cadet Captain is a hero – a real-life hero – who recently saved a couple when their pontoon boat caught fire near the Lake Jacomo Marina.

Blue Springs South High School Junior ROTC Colonel Stan Cole, left, and Senior Master Sergeant Courtney Jones visit with Cadet Captain Kellen Heinzman after he received the Junior ROTC Silver Valor Award for saving a couple on a pontoon boat at Lake Jacomo when their craft caught fire. Heinzman is a senior at Blue Springs South High School.

Heinzman, who works at the marina, heard one the members of the marina crew yell, “Fire,” and the South senior couldn’t believe what he saw.

“Their pontoon was on fire, and it was about 20 or 30 yards from the dock,” said Heinzman.

He grabbed a fire extinguisher and jumped on a pontoon moored to the dock. 

“I wanted to get out there as quickly as I could,” Heinzman said. “I didn’t know what started the fire or how quickly it would spread. I just wanted to get on their pontoon and assure them they were going to be all right.

Blue Springs South High School Junior ROTC Cadet Captain Kellen Heinzman holds the fire extinguisher he used to save a couple on a pontoon boat at Lake Jacomo that caught fire in late September. [Photo courtesy of Jill Furedy]

“It was an elderly couple, and the woman was in a wheelchair, so I knew I had to act fast.”

He said his training in ROTC training – where the motto is “Service Before Self, Integrity First and Excellence in All We Do” – immediately came to mind.

“I immediately thought of those core values and went out to their pontoon,” he said. “And once I got there, I felt real calm, like everything was going to be all right.”

He tied the couple’s pontoon onto his boat and helped them get to the front of the boat, away from the flames. He put out the fire, and breathed a deep sigh of relief when he saw the fire was started by the battery.

“The battery is close to the fuel line, and it was actually melting when I got out there,” Heinzman said. “Looks like I got there in time, because there was never a problem with the fuel line or tank once I extinguished the fire.”

Heinzman towed the couple back to the marina and got a hero’s welcome. He has since been awared the Junior ROTC Silver Valor Award.

“It takes a very capable and thoughtful young man to respond so effectively to a patron in need,” said Michele Newman, the director of Jackson County Parks + Rec.

Added Jill Furedy, the assistant marina manager, “All the Jacomo Marina team are incredibly proud of Kellen and his quick response.” 

But Heinzman’s story doesn’t end there.

Col. Stan Cole, who is in charge of the Blue Springs South Junior ROTC cadets, found out about Heinzman’s life-saving deed and nominated him for the Junior ROTC Silver Valor Award.

“I made a call, got all the details, and they sounded very interested in honoring Kevin,” Cole said. “We’re so proud of him. He risked his life to go out and rescue two people he didn’t even know. That’s the type of young man he is. We’re so proud of him.”

About a month after the nomination, the award arrived at the high school.

“I knew something was up when Col. Cole called me and asked me to come to school in my AVUs (Army combat uniform), because he said they were shooting a video and he wanted me to be part of it,” Heinzman said.

“I got there and Dr. (Charlie) Belt, our principal, was there and I saw Col. Cole with an award. They really surprised me. I hadn’t really thought about winning it, but I am so happy I did.”

So, the question has to be: Do you feel like a hero?

“Yeah, you know I do feel a little bit like a hero,” Heinzman said. “I’m proud of what I did, how I responded and I can thank our Junior ROTC program and Col. Cole for preparing me for a moment like that.”