While the toll of Australia’s brushfires will take years to fully comprehend, the immediate loss of life is clear and apparent. Dozens of people — mothers fathers, sons and daughters — lost forever, leaving families and communities to morn while still struggling to deal with the dangerous blazes.
On December 19th, two volunteer firefighters lost their lives while attempting to save so many others. Andrew O’Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton, both fathers to 20-month-olds born just days apart, were killed when a fallen tree forced their vehicle off the road.
The 2 firefighters killed in a vehicle accident last night are Deputy Captain Geoffrey Keaton 32yrs & Firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer 36yrs, both from Horsley Park Brigade. Our thoughts are with their family, friends & fellow brigade members. #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/p3Y8zX3hBj
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 19, 2019
More than fellow firefighters, the two men were friends, living and working in the same area. Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons telling news.com.au, “They work together, socialize together, they’re very interactive together. Their respective partners and wives shared a lot in common with their camaraderie and connection with the brigade. Geoff has a young son Harvey, and Andrew has a young daughter Charlotte, and both of those children were born two days apart back in May so they’re 19 months of age, which just terrible.”
Following the initial incident, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a press conference “They were bravely defending their communities with an unmatched spirit and a dedication that will forever set them apart amongst our most courageous Australians. Their sacrifice and service saving lives and saving properties will be forever remembered.”
While so many stories of tragedy sweep across the country, all of Australia, and the world for that matter, recently united around a photo shared from O’Dwyer’s funeral service. In it, his daughter Charlotte can be seen wearing her father’s newly awarded medal. His large white helmet adorning her small head as she stood near her father’s coffin, at times refusing to leave his side.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons sharing a special message with the brave little girl during his remarks, saying “Charlotte should know her father was a selfless and special man, who only left because he was a hero.”
Geoffrey Keaton’s service was just as moving, with his son Harvey accepting his dad’s commendations for bravery and service on his behalf. His wife Jess telling The Daily Telegraph “He would drive me mad giving up stuff at home to help people… I would give anything for that now. I just want him to be remembered as the hero he was.”
The #NSWRFS farewelled one of our own today, Geoffrey Keaton, one of two firefighters who lost their lives fighting fires on 19 December 2019. @RFSCommissioner Fitzsimmons honored Geoffrey today by posthumously awarding him Commissioner’s Commendations for Bravery and Service. pic.twitter.com/VFeZMxNuJq
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 2, 2020
As volunteers continue to fight and Australia struggles to keep up with the daily onslaught of tragedy, it’s important to take time to remember those lost and the families and friends they’ve left behind. Our thoughts are with Australia and the people who give of themselves to save others.
Here are some ways you can help:
- Donate to the Australian Red Cross, which is supporting thousands of people in evacuation and recovery centers across the country. Local residents can volunteer their services.
- Donate to the Salvation Army Australia, which is providing meals and support to evacuees and first responders in multiple locations.
- Extra room in your home? Offer to host people in need of emergency housing on AirBnB.
- Donate to the Vincent de Paul Society, which is helping evacuated families recover. The organization is providing food and clothing, helping cover bills, and donating household items to those whose homes have been destroyed.
- Donate food, funds or services to Foodbank, the largest hunger-relief charity in Australia.
- Donate to a GoFundMededicated to displaced First Nations Communities that need to rebuild.
- Donate food, toiletries and household items using Givit.