’Your father loved you’: MP tells of fireys’ last moments

LABOR MP Hugh McDermott was one of the last people to see two heroic firefighters alive before they were tragically lost in the horror Wattle Creek blaze in December.

The brigade had chatted about fires and sick children during their shift changeover for the rural fire service, moments before their lives would change forever.

Mr McDermott, a rural fire service firefighter, will pay tribute to Andrew O'Dwyer and Geoff Keaton today in NSW parliament, recalling those final moments and hailing the men as courageous heroes.

On December 19, after a long day battling the Wattle Creek fire, Mr McDermott's crew threw the keys of the fire truck to the pair and said: "I'll see you in 12 hours". But they never would.

Mr McDermott will tell of those final chats - and how Mr Keaton had spoken about his young son before driving off to fight fires - as NSW parliament begins a week of tributes to firefighters and victims.

 

Labor MP Hugh McDermott was one of the last people to see two heroic firefighters alive. Picture: AAP
Labor MP Hugh McDermott was one of the last people to see two heroic firefighters alive. Picture: AAP

 

Mr McDermott said he wanted to put on the official record of parliamentary Hansard the courage and heroism of Mr O'Dwyer and Mr Keaton so their children may one day read it back.

Members of the Horsley Park RFS brigade will attend parliament today to watch the speech.

Mr McDermott, part of the Horsley Park Brigade 1 Alpha in the rural fire service, was tasked to the Green Wattle Creek fire at Balmoral and Buxton in Wollondilly.

He met up with Mr O'Dwyer and Mr Keaton at 8pm and three other colleagues the evening of December 19 at Picton for crew changeover.

"We talked about the job at hand, our concerns on the condition of the fireground and the dangers we were facing. We talked about our families and what was happening at home," Mr McDermott said.

 

 

 

He said that Mr Keaton had spoken about his young son.

"Geoff's 20 month old son, Harvey, was ill with a similar ailment that my daughter had a few years ago, so we talked about him and parenting stress for a couple of minutes," Mr McDermott will say in his speech to parliament today.

"In the future, when Harvey is old enough to read this Hansard, I want him to know that the last words Geoff spoke to me were about him. Harvey, your father loved you very much."

Mr McDermott told Mr O'Dwyer and Mr Keaton "I'll see you in 12 hours".

He never did. As the five vehicle convoy of the Cumberland Strike Team sped through Balmoral a large burning tree fell, hitting the cabin of the truck Mr O'Dwyer and Mr Keaton were in.

 

 

 

The truck flipped and rolled three times, killing them.

"Of the three volunteers in the back of the cabin, Carlos's legs were trapped and he was bleeding from a large gash behind his year," Mr McDermott said of Carlos Quinteros, another brigade member.

"Tim was unconscious but (brigade member) Ben (Fraser), despite his injuries, climbed into the front of the cabin in an attempt to help Andrew and Geoff.

"He held Andrew's head in his lap."

Mr McDermott said the actions of those volunteer fire fighters - some of whom are in the House today - were both "extraordinary and typical of our brigade and the members of the RFS."

On hearing the news of the deaths, Mr McDermott said his "only thought at the time was to head to the Brigade and be with my colleagues. And their families."

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons honoured Geoffrey Keaton at his funeral with a posthumous Commissioner’s Commendations for Bravery and Service, accepted by his son.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons honoured Geoffrey Keaton at his funeral with a posthumous Commissioner’s Commendations for Bravery and Service, accepted by his son.

The families of Geoff and Andrew showed up as well, as did Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

The fire brigade members wanted to go straight back on the fire line, and were redeployed the following day.

Mr McDermott will use the speech to encourage "civic mindedness" and unity in Australia.

"At a time when many say our social institutions are declining and individualism is on the rise, their commitment reminds us there is a civic mindedness embedded in our Australian DNA," he said.

From left, Jess Hayes, partner of Geoffrey Keaton with RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and Melissa O’Dwyer, wife of Andrew O’Dwyer. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone
From left, Jess Hayes, partner of Geoffrey Keaton with RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and Melissa O’Dwyer, wife of Andrew O’Dwyer. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone

"We need to hold onto this, build on this, so that being an active member of the community, of finding how to help our neighbour, is the norm and not the extraordinary.

"I know the Members of this parliament will find bipartisan ways to recognise our volunteer firefighters and thank them for their effort."

The Labor MP volunteers with RFS and has been helping battle fires over the summer.
The Labor MP volunteers with RFS and has been helping battle fires over the summer.