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SMITH: Candlestick went dark for our John

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.

Invited by a buddy to the big 49ers/Packers game, I was one of thousands of fans curious and concerned about a flurry of paramedic activity just behind one of the end zones in the fourth quarter.

There hadn’t been a serious injury on the field, so who was loaded into the ambulance that a policeman on a light-flashing motorcycle led out of the stadium?

I was dumbstruck minutes later when a phone call from The Press Democrat newsroom informed me it was my friend John Burgess, the world-class PD photographer.

He’d suffered a heart attack and crumpled while shooting photos from the goal line.

Think of that. If it had to happen, could John have possibly been in a better spot? In seconds, emergency medical personnel on the sidelines were working on him, toiling to restore his heartbeat and breathing.

John, a creative genius who loves sports photography and in addition to his PD work has shot more than 300 assignments for Sports Illustrated, was at last revived by ambulance paramedics who shocked him back to life.

“The first person I remember seeing,” he told me Wednesday in an e-mail, “was Robert Beck, a photographer from Sports Illustrated who I worked with on the golf tour for the magazine and have known for 20 years.”

Beck left the game because he didn’t want John to be alone at S.F. General Hospital and he knew it would take a while for John’s wife, the PD’s Mary Callahan Burgess, to get there.

Today John feels hugely grateful to Beck, to “the amazing paramedics who brought me back from the edge,” to the motorcycle cop who rode escort to the hospital and to a heap of doctors and nurses — some of whom call him a miracle man because he’s come through so extremely well.

He’ll undergo bypass surgery before he comes home to his family and begins to plot a return to shooting magic with those Canons of his.

GABE STIRNUS would have been right at home on the sidelines with John.

Stirnus is a 1998 Monty grad who became a Bennett Valley firefighter/paramedic and a few years back received a Medal of Valor for his and a colleague’s dramatic rescue of a man from a burning car.

His partner was Steve Gritsch, who became a San Francisco police officer and weeks ago drew praise for his quick action in reviving an abandoned newborn.

And now Stirnus, happily employed by the Sonoma Valley Fire & Rescue Authority, has been named California Firefighter of the Year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

His service on-duty and off, including his career-prep work with teens through the CHOICES program, will be saluted in Sonoma on Friday night at the awards banquet of VFW’s Bear Flag Post 1943.

JAXON ABLAZE: KSRO talk-show host Steve Jaxon will feel the heat at 6 p.m. Friday at D’Argenzio Winery as comic Johnny Steele and others roast him to mark his 40 years on radio, 60 years alive.

Proceeds will be shared with the Cooking with Kids Foundation created by Guy Fieri, who knows roasting and may stop by.

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