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Tuesday, Oct 09 2012 08:27 PM

Fourth grade student earns medal for saving choking classmate

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Salem Palmer, 10, reacts to seeing the Mayor's Medal of Appreciation that was later hung around his neck by Mayor Harvey Hall in recognition of Salem's quick action that saved the life of a classmate in the cafeteria at Highland Elementary School in September. Salem was recognized at the Standard School District board meeting on Tuesday night in Oildale.

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BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

When Salem Palmer saw a fellow student choking on a piece of pizza during Highland Elementary School's lunchtime a couple weeks ago, he didn't hesitate to help.

Salem, a 10-year-old who had just competed CPR training a couple months earlier, started pounding on the student's back, performing the Heimlich maneuver. The pizza dislodged from the student's throat. Salem was heralded as a hero.

Of how he rescued a fellow student -- one he had never met before -- Salem said, "A kid was choking. I went up and did the Heimlich. What else do you want to know?"

Salem was honored for his heroism at Standard School District's Tuesday night Board of Trustees meeting. At the meeting, Mayor Harvey Hall presented Salem with the Mayor's Medal of Appreciation.

The school incident wasn't Salem's first brush with heroism. A few months ago, he rescued a family from a burning home, said Eric Palmer, his father. Salem was riding his bicycle when he saw flames coming out of a two story house that had wood and debris in the front yard. Salem knocked on the door to tell the family, who wasn't aware of the fire yet, they needed to get out of the house.

"He's so calm about these things," Eric Palmer said.

Salem wants to be a paramedic when he grows up. That's why he called up Hall Ambulance to ask about CPR training, even though a person has to be 12-years-old to be officially certified, said Brent Burton, the paramedic who trained Salem.

Salem acted like he was 20 years old when setting up the class and during training, Burton said. Still, he never expected Salem to use his training in real life. Most people of any age wouldn't jump into action like Salem did, Burton said.

Had Salem not done the Heimlich maneuver, the other student probably would not have been breathing by the time paramedics got there, Burton said.

"Hopefully other people take note," Burton said.

Salem was shocked at Tuesday night's recognition, Salem said. He was told he was going to the board meeting to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. He did lead the pledge, but what happened after -- receiving the medal -- felt "crazy," he said.

The medal also doubled as a 10th birthday gift. His birthday was Monday.

After the mayor draped it over his shoulders, Salem walked back to his seat. Before sitting down, he turned around like he had forgotten something and said to the mayor, "Thank you."

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