The little girl's father was one of two volunteer firefighters who died fighting the deadly bushfires southwest of Sydney on December 19.
There wasn't a dry eye in the house at the late Andrew O'Dwyer's funeral on Tuesday as little Charlotte O'Dwyer said her final goodbye to her firefighter father. The 20-month-old painted a heartbreaking picture at the service with a newly presented service medal pinned to her white dress and her dad's helmet on her head. Young Charlotte's father was one of two volunteer firefighters who died fighting the deadly bushfires southwest of Sydney on December 19 and photos of the little girl refusing to leave her dad's side during the emotional service have now gone viral on social media, driving home the severity of the truly devastating situation Australia has been facing for months.
According to news.com.au, the 36-year-old O'Dwyer was killed last month when a fallen tree caused the truck he was in to roll off the road. The incident also killed 32-year-old Geoffrey Keaton—dad to 20-month-old Harvey who was born just two days apart from Charlotte.
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
Speaking to the publication following the death of the two firefighters, RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, "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."
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
Today we celebrate the life of firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer of the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade. Andrew was tragically killed along with fellow member Geoff Keaton on December 19 while fighting the Green Wattle Fire near Buxton. #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/vFTSJwdmPA— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 7, 2020
On Tuesday, Fitzsimmons pinned the service medal, that was posthumously awarded to O'Dwyer for his bravery, on young Charlotte, reports Daily Mail. Addressing the fallen firefighter's daughter and wife Melissa in a moving speech during the service, he said, "Charlotte should know her father was a selfless and special man, who only left because he was a hero."
Charlotte refused to leave her father's side during the service held at Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Horsley Park, bringing a much-needed smile to the face of mourners at one point as she lay on the floor under her father's casket while eating from a bag of chips.
The service was attended by New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who in an emotional press conference following the devastating accident, said, "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."
Outside the service, Charlotte's mother, who carried the child in her arms, lowered the little girl down to her father's casket to give him a final kiss goodbye. Although her eyes welled with tears, the grieving widow put on a brave face as she walked beside her father-in-law Errol while he led the procession out of the church grounds.
Maori members of the RFS performed an impromptu haka in tribute to their fallen comrade, who was described by his dad as "a free spirit who lived in the present and whose greatest achievement was his daughter."
A member of the Horsley Park RFS brigade for more than a decade, O'Dwyer was given a guard of honor as his coffin left the requiem mass and in a lasting tribute to him, Horsley Park RFS fire truck will forever have a special message reading "In memory of Andrew O’Dwyer" on the passenger side door.
Firefighters formed a guard of honour to farewell volunteer Andrew O'Dwyer who was remembered as a proud NSW Rural Fire Service member whose greatest achievement was his young daughter https://t.co/gBszeUfUKE pic.twitter.com/dyZXQPYoJl— SBS News (@SBSNews) January 7, 2020
O'Dwyer's emotional funeral on Tuesday came five days after the touching service for Keaton during which his son Harvey was also presented with his father’s service medal. In the days after his death, the heroic firefighter's wife Jess remembered him as "a super proud dad who did anything to help his family and friends." Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, she said, "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."
This is the heart-breaking moment when the RFS Commissioner knelt in front of the toddler son of volunteer firefighter Geoffrey Keaton and pinned a medal to his chest - his dad's posthumous Commendation for Bravery and Service | @JacquelineMaley https://t.co/yfEhg3ziwP #NSWFires— The Sydney Morning Herald (@smh) January 2, 2020