Fifteen-year-old John Barkley Jr. had taken one CPR course as a junior member of the Clayton Fire Company in February. The Smyrna resident never thought he would face a real-life test so quickly.
On Saturday, June 1, Barkley was visiting a friend at the friend's grandfather's house near Cheswold.
"We were outside and heard screaming from the yard across the street," he said. "We ran over to the house. They had pulled a boy out of the pool. I checked his pulse and breathing. He wasn't breathing and he had no pulse. I started CPR. Someone had called 911."
The boy who had been pulled from the pool was just four years old.
As Barkley started the first CPR chest compressions, water came out of the boy's mouth. Barkley put him on his side to help get more water out. After more CPR, the boy started gurgling and gasping for air, but he stopped breathing again, Barkley said.
He continued CPR with help with breaths from a friend of the boy's family.
"It was about nine minutes (of CPR). Towards the end, he started breathing before the ambulance got there," said Barkley.
When the boy started breathing, Barkley said he felt "a big sigh of relief."
The ambulance crew took the boy to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover.
Why did Barkley step in and start CPR when others were waiting for the ambulance to arrive?
"I felt like it was the right thing to do," said Barkley, adding that the CPR training he had completed with the fire company gave him the confidence to try.
Later that day, a paramedic returned from the hospital and checked on Barkley. The paramedic said that the four-year-old boy had two seizures while at Kent General, so he was flown to A.I. DuPont Hospital for more treatment.
Barkley's parents, Ginger and John Barkley Sr., said the experience was an emotional roller coaster.
John Sr. said, "After hearing the story, I just started crying, worrying about the young boy and just thinking about what my son had just gone through."
Ginger said, "It was two days before we heard that he was going to have to spend a few more days in the hospital, but he was going to make a full recovery. John (Jr.) had kind of shut down and was very quiet until we heard that good news. He could not focus on anything but that little boy."
Before learning that the boy had recovered, John Jr. said he had trouble concentrating on his freshman exams at Smyrna High School on Monday, June 3.
Page 2 of 3 - Then later that day, the Barkleys found out that the boy was going to be just fine.
"They said he was going to be able to go to his preschool graduation," said John Jr.
Although John hasn't seen the boy in person since he saved his life, the boy's babysitter contacted John through Facebook and sent a photo of the boy at his preschool graduation. The babysitter said the boy's family would like to host a dinner as a tribute to John.
According to the babysitter, the family is Vietnamese and doesn't want any attention with news interviews or photos.
"The babysitter did say that they are very thankful for John and they are honoring him," said Ginger.
John said this experience was an eye-opener.
"It made me realize how important training is and you never know when you will need to use it," he said.
His parents said when he wanted to join the fire company, they didn't hesitate to approve.
"He would like to be a police officer and it was only natural when he decided to join the Clayton Fire Company," said Ginger. "He knows that this additional training will help him. We are very proud of the path he has taken."
Praise from fire company leaders
Clayton Fire Chief Robbie Johnson said the members of the fire company are also proud of John.
"What an outstanding job he did," said Johnson. "It lets us know that the younger members are paying attention during training. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but they actually are, and it feels good to know we're doing it right."
While training helps prepare members for emergency situations, Johnson said that John still had to step up and show tremendous courage under pressure.
"A lot of guys take training but they don't always have the ability to perform when events take place or they're never in a situation when they need to use it. John did it," said Johnson.
John is also a member of the Delaware State Police Explorers, a program that shows teens what it's like to be a police officer.
To let the State Police know about John's heroic actions, William "Skip" Carrow, a past chief of the Clayton Fire Company, sent a letter to the leaders of the Explorers program. Carrow knows first-hand about what happened because he's the supervisor of Kentcom, the 911 center in Dover, and was actually on duty June 1 when the call about the four-year-old boy came in to the center.
"While the 911 operator was beginning to give instructions over the phone on how to do CPR, the people on scene advised that a person was now performing CPR," said Carrow in his letter.
Page 3 of 3 - But he didn't know that the person performing CPR was Clayton Fire Company junior member John Barkley Jr.
Carrow said the first emergency responder on the scene was the chief of the Little Creek Fire Company.
The chief said John's training and actions directly resulted in the outcome of the child surviving, Carrow wrote.
"The amazing thing was how humble John was about the incident," Carrow wrote. "Sunday evening while a group of members, John included, were sitting around the firehouse talking, I had mentioned to them that we had had the four-year-old boy that nearly drowned when John spoke up and admitted that he was the one who had performed the CPR. It just amazed me at 15 years old how humble John was considering what he had done."
Tributes to Barkley
John was recognized for his heroic actions on June 8 at the Clayton Firehouse during the Railroad Days Festival, and more tributes are planned by the fire company and by Clayton Town Council.
On Monday night, he was honored at the Smyrna Town Council meeting and presented with a framed certificate of commendation by Mayor Joanne Masten.
"This is the part of being on council that is the best time, when we can recognize someone for doing something that goes above and beyond to help," said Masten.