NSW bushfire deaths: RFS Geoffrey Keaton farewelled at funeral
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- news” data-tgev-container=”bulletlink” href=”https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/nsw-bushfires-firefighter-killed-while-fighting-green-valley-blaze/news–story/48bce6c856b94dc8661b150690806de2″ target=”_self” type=”[object Object]” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Third RFS volunteer, Samuel McPaul, killed protecting community
An honour guard of NSW Rural Fire Service members, heartbroken family and dignitaries including Prime Minister Scott Morrison have gathered to farewell fallen volunteer firefighter Geoffrey Keaton at a funeral in Sydney’s west.
Mr Keaton, 32, and fellow firey Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, were killed when a burnt ‘widow maker’ gum tree fell and crushed the cab of their fire truck, killing them instantly, on December 19.
The two mates, both young fathers, were driving in their truck near the Green Wattle Creek blaze at Buxton, south west of Sydney, when the accident claimed their lives.
A parade of tankers and RFS vehicles including some from the Horsley Park Brigade, where Mr Keaton served as deputy-captain, flanked the black hearse carrying his casket into Pinegrove Memorial Park on Thursday morning.
The Horsley Park 1 Bravo tanker, driving ahead of the hearse with lights flashing, had both mens’ names painted on the windshield and doors.
Mr Keaton’s family and friends, along with the Prime Minister, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Minister Anthony Roberts and RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, were among those who gathered under smokey skies for the service.
RFS and other emergency services staff stood hand-on-heart forming an honour guard for Mr Keaton outside the chapel before the service.
Mr Keaton’s casket was draped in a red NSW RFS flag and topped with a bouquet of red, white and yellow flowers — along with his service helmet.
His brother Phil cried as he and other pallbearers carried the casket into the chapel while RFS dignitaries, carrying polished silver axes, followed.
“I’ll miss the long phone calls about nothing at all, I’ll miss the fishing when we could just sit and spend time together,” his brother said, breaking down.
Mr Fitzsimmons presented Mr Keaton’s grieving partner Jess with a Commissioner’s Commendation for Extraordinary Service and a Commendation for Bravery recognising Mr Keaton’s “ultimate sacrifice”.
Mr Keaton’s 19-month-old young son Harvey wore a tiny, white RFS uniform to which Commissioner Fitzsimmons pinned one of the medals.
“When Geoff and Andrew were so tragically taken from us the brigade pulled together like nothing else,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said, calling Mr Keaton an “extraordinary individual”.
“To see them come together and be out in the field the next day, across firegrounds in some of the most horrendous conditions we’ve experienced in this state in history, is a credit to the brigade … and a credit to Geoff and Andrew.”
A mug sat next to a candle on the casket; “Daddy I love you to the moon and back” was scrawled across it in childish handwriting.
His family and friends, along with the Prime Minister, gathered under smoky skies for the service almost two weeks after the nation was thrown into mourning for the two men.
“It was important to be able to honour his great sacrifice and his tremendous service,” Mr Morrison said after the service.
“Sadly we’ll be attending two more of these services in the not too distant future.”
RFS members, clad in yellow uniforms, formed an honour guard for Mr Keaton outside the chapel before the service.
“It was also tremendous to be there with the men and women of the Horsley Park RFS brigade as they proved the guard of honour for their mate,” Mr Morrison said.
The Prime Minister extended the deepest sympathies of the nation to the families of Mr Keaton, Mr O’Dwyer and a third volunteer firefighter, Samuel McPaul, who was killed on Monday night outside Albury.
Mr McPaul, 28, was working to protect farmland when a fire tornado lifted his eight-tonne tanker and dropped it on top of him and another crew member.
His fellow crewmen was left with serious burns, the driver of the truck was also injured, but Mr McPaul could not be saved.
Originally published as RFS guard of honour for fallen firey’s funeral