4 Children and Baby on the Way Lose Firefighter Dads in Australia Blazes — Here's How to Help Them
Since the devastating bushfires broke out in September, at least two dozen people have lost their lives. Among those fatalities were three volunteer firefighters — two of whom were fathers to young children, and one who was expecting his first child in the coming months.
Keaton, 32, and O’Dwyer, 36, both died after a tree fell down near Buxton on Dec. 19, causing their truck to roll off the road and overturn, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) confirmed.
Less than two weeks later, a similar incident occurred involving McPaul, 28. He died after his truck “was involved in a rollover caused by extreme winds associated with the fire” on Dec. 30 at the Green Wattle Creek, the RFS reported.
In the wake of their unimaginable loss, Australians have been rallying around the men’s loved ones, including their wives and children, as they prepare for a future without their husbands and fathers.
The RFS said Keaton joined the Service in 2006, was a former member of Plumpton Brigade and most recently served as the Horsley Park Fire Brigade deputy captain. O’Dwyer was a member of the Horsley Park Fire Brigade, joining the Service in 2003.
Sadly, both men were married and fathers to 20-month-old children. Keaton had a son named Harvey, who was presented with a posthumous medal to honor his father’s bravery at his funeral on Jan. 2.
Heartbreaking photos from the service show Harvey having the medal pinned on his shirt with a pacifier in his mouth, while others captured the “Daddy I love you to the moon and back!” mug placed on top of Keaton’s casket.
O’Dwyer had a daughter named Charlotte, who wore her father’s firefighter helmet and refused to leave his side at his funeral service on Jan. 7. The late firefighter also had two young sons.
Following their deaths, Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his condolences in a statement, calling the two men — who were best friends — some of Australia’s most courageous people.
“I express my sincere condolences and sympathies to the families of the firefighters who have so tragically been killed overnight,” Morrison wrote. “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,” he added.
As for McPaul, the RFS revealed on Jan. 1 that his wife Megan is currently pregnant with their first child, who is due in May.
“This is a devastating loss to Samuel’s family and his broader NSW RFS family,” the RFS wrote on their website. “Samuel was a young man with his whole future ahead of him… The young couple were in the midst of preparations to welcome their baby and Megan is now facing parenthood without Samuel.”
“This is another confronting reality of the ever-present dangers faced by our firefighters, who give so much to protect property and lives, and our collective hearts are breaking,” the service added.
After the three losses, the RFS announced that they created a dedicated bank account “to collect donations for the families of volunteer firefighters who have been tragically killed while on duty this fire season.”
“All funds received will be equally distributed between the spouses of Geoffrey and Andrew, and tax receipts will be issued to donors,” the RFS said, adding that donations for McPaul “will be distributed to Samuel’s wife, Megan, to provide for their baby’s future.”
Donations can be made straight to the two designated bank accounts for the firefighters or through a credit card payment online, both of which can be found on RFS’ website.
GoFundMe campaigns have also been set up by both the late firefighter’s loved ones and strangers overseas wanting to help. A Keaton and O’Dwyer fund was established shortly after their passing, which has since raised over $424,000.
Another running fund for the firefighters’ families has been set up within the past three days and over $8,300 has been raised so far.
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Since September, at least 25 people have been killed while a whopping 12 million acres have been wiped out, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings. A seven-day state of emergency was declared on Dec. 23.
Ecologists from the University of Sydney believe 800 million total mammals, birds and reptiles have died in the state of New South Wales since September, professor Chris Dickman told the outlet. That massive number includes a third of the New South Wales koala population, and fatalities are only expected to increase.