Firefighters who died in Green Wattle Creek bushfire remembered as loving fathers, community members

On the final day of an inquest into their deaths, family members have described volunteer firefighters 32-year-old Geoffrey Keaton and 36-year-old Andrew O’Dwyer as dedicated firefighters and loving fathers.

The pair were killed while fighting the Green Wattle Creek bushfire in the Southern Highlands on December 19, 2019 when a tree fell on their fire truck near Buxton.

Andrew O’Dwyer’s wife, Melissa, delivered an emotional statement to the court today, describing her husband as a selfless man who spent much of his life helping his community.

“Andrew was hardworking and he dedicated much of his life giving back to the community,” Mrs O’Dwyer said.

Geoffrey Keaton’s mother, Dianne, also spoke on behalf of the Keaton family at the closing of the inquest, telling the coroner her son had always been community-minded.

A woman with her adult son.
Dianne Keaton described her son Geoffrey as “a big softie” who was dedicated to helping his community.(Supplied: NSW Coroner)

“As a little boy he joined the cadets with the RFS and as soon as he was old enough he signed up,” Mrs Keaton said.

She also read out a passage from a journal entry Mr Keaton wrote when he was in year six, talking about the importance of volunteers.

“Volunteer firefighters give up their time, even during the night,” the journal entry said.

“Some firefighters give their life in bushfires.”‘

A young child in a firefighting uniform.
Geoffrey Keaton was passionate about helping his community and joined the RFS as a cadet.(Supplied: NSW Coroner)

The inquest heard the two men were good friends, with young children born just days apart.

no time to brake

Another firefighter traveling in the truck behind Mr Keaton and Mr O’Dwyer said Mr Keaton, who was driving the truck, had no chance of stopping.

Andrew Gregory described the scene he witnessed that night, the “carnage”.

“I saw a large section of the tree come down on them,” Mr Gregory told the coroner.

“The truck was moving and bouncing from side to side and as it was doing that it was moving towards the right-hand side of the road and once they hit the gutter, they rolled several times.

“There was debris flying off that truck, it was devastation … carnage.

“It was instantaneous, milliseconds.

The court heard Mr Keaton died of a crush injury and was likely to kill the moment the tree hit the truck.

man pinning medal on toddler
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons pins a commendation medal onto Mr Keaton’s son, Harvey.(Twitter: NSW Rural Fire Service)

Mr O’Dwyer died of head injuries a short time later.

The NSW Bushfires Coronial inquiry will adjourn until June 14, when it will begin hearing evidence into the Gospers Mountain bushfire, north-west of Sydney.


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