James C. Kirkendall rescued Andrew J. Foley from suffocation, Logan, West Virginia, May 16, 1961. While at the bottom of a manhole 32 feet deep where he was trying to unblock a sewer, Foley, 18, plumber’s helper, lost consciousness. His father and another man attempted to remove him by means of a safety line tied around his chest, but Foley slumped downward with one arm hooked over a rung of a ladder embedded in the brick wall and his head close to water two feet deep on the bottom. Firemen and others, including Kirkendall, 29, plumber, arrived. One fireman started down the ladder but could not get through a narrow part of the manhole, as its diameter varied from 20 to 36 inches, of which five inches was obstructed by the ladder rungs. Kirkendall, who thought that Foley had been overcome by some gas, then volunteered to be lowered headfirst. With a rope tied about each ankle and held by others, he slowly was let down to within four feet of the bottom. The rough interior of the manhole scraped his bare arms and back, and his body blocked light and air from above. Hanging head down, Kirkendall disengaged Foley’s arm from the ladder and secured a locking grip around his chest with both arms. Kirkendall, holding Foley, then was pulled upward by the men holding the ropes. Ten feet below the top Foley’s head became caught beneath a ladder rung. Kirkendall called for the men to lower him slightly, which they did. Supporting Foley with only one arm, Kirkendall drew the former’s head from beneath the rung and quickly regained his locked grip about his chest. The men then raised them to the surface. Kirkendall had been in the manhole approximately five minutes. Foley was revived and recovered.
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James Kirkendall, 80, of Logan, W.Va., died on March 20, 2012, in Charleston, W.Va.
Born on June 19, 1931, in Logan, he was a son of Klon and Billie Cassel Kirkendall.
Kirkendall was a member of the Nighbert Memorial Methodist Church, a former volunteer fireman, a Mason and Shriner, and a plumber by trade. He received the Carnegie Medal for saving a man’s life in Logan.
He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Pecks Mill, W.Va., with Masonic gravesite rites.
(Edited from an obituary in the Logan Banner, March 18, 2012.)