Girl Wears Her Australian Firefighter Dad's Helmet and Refuses to Leave His Side at His Funeral
Andrew O'Dwyer died battling the deadly blazes after a tree fell down and pushed his firetruck off the road
A little girl from Australia said her final goodbye to her firefighter father this week after he died battling the ravaging wildfires in New South Wales.
The heartbreaking moment — featuring 20-month-old Charlotte O’Dwyer standing beside Andrew O’Dwyer’s casket in a white dress, her father’s helmet, and a newly presented service medal — was captured in a series of photos at his funeral on Tuesday.
Andrew, 36, was one of two volunteer firefighters who died fighting the deadly blazes southwest of Sydney after a tree fell down and pushed their truck off the road on Dec. 19.
The incident also killed 32-year-old Geoffrey Keaton, a father to his own 20-month-old child, who was born just two days apart from Charlotte, 9 News reported.
Charlotte refused to leave her father’s side during Tuesday’s service, which was held at Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Horsley Park, according to 9 News.
During the emotional funeral — attended by Andrew’s wife Melissa, the couple’s other two children, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and hundreds of people from the community — the fallen firefighter was posthumously awarded a service medal by the Rural Fire Service (RFS), the outlet reported.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons delivered a eulogy, telling Charlotte that Andrew, who joined the service in 2003, was a “hero” before pinning the medal on her dress.
“Charlotte should know her father was a selfless and special man, who only left because he was a hero,” he told the crowded church, according to the Daily Mail.
The outlet reported that Fitzsimmons gave both Melissa and Andrew’s father Errol RFS flags — the same kind that had been draped over the firefighter’s coffin — and announced that a Horsley Park RFS firetruck will have a special message reading “In memory of Andrew O’Dwyer” on the passenger side door.
At one point during the service, Charlotte sat on the floor under her father’s casket, eating from a bag of chips. The sweet moment brought a smile to many of the mourners’ faces, though tears soon came when Charlotte gave the coffin a kiss goodbye.
Behind her, Melissa watched as tears welled up in her eyes, Daily Mail reported.
Andrew’s casket was then carried from the church with hundreds of volunteers from the RFS standing outside in a guard of honor, putting their hands on their hearts. Maori members from the RFS performed an impromptu haka in honor of Andrew.
Andrew’s funeral came five days after the service for his colleague Keaton, who served as the Horsley Park Brigade deputy captain after joining the RFS in 2006. Keaton was the father of a young son named Harvey.
Like Charlotte, Fitzsimmons presented Harvey with his father’s service medal at his Thursday funeral, according to the Daily Mail.
Since September, the devastating Australian wildfires burning across New South Wales and Victoria have claimed the lives of at least 25 people, burned through more than 11 million acres and killed at least half a billion animals.
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A seven-day state of emergency was declared on Dec. 23.
So far, 2,000 firefighters have been reported to be working in New South Wales alone, with additional help arriving from the United States, Canada, and New Zealand.
Experts said that the fires will go on for months, NPR reported.