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‘He is a hero:’ Daughter of firefighter killed battling Australia fires wore his helmet, medal at funeral

Charlotte O'Dwyer (Getty Images)

SYDNEY, Australia — A 36-year-old firefighter killed battling Australia’s blazes was honored by hundreds of mourners, a traditional dance, and a medal of honor for his young daughter.

Andrew O’Dwyer, a 16-year veteran of the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service, was battling the bush fires in Sydney on Dec.19 when a tree fell on his firetruck, killing him and Deputy Captain Geoffrey Keaton, 32. Both men were volunteers of Sydney’s Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade.

At his funeral, O’Dwyer’s young daughter, Charlotte, toddled around his coffin wearing his fire helmet. Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons pinned her father’s service medal to her dress.

“Baby Charlotte, you need to know — your dad was a special man, a selfless man, and only left because he is a hero,” an emotional Fitzsimmons told the child, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Outside the church, a firetruck bearing O’Dwyer’s name and hundreds of firefighters lined the church parking lot.

A group of men greeted the hearse carrying O’Dwyer’s coffin by performing a haka, a traditional dance of the Maori people in New Zealand.

The men stomped, chanted and slapped their legs as officials, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, looked on in salute.

In lieu of flowers, the NSW Rural Fire Service asked for donations to a bank account created for O’Dwyer and Keaton’s families. The funds will be evenly split between their spouses.

At Keaton’s funeral, his 19-month-old son, still sucking on a pacifier, received a medal for his father’s bravery.

Another firefighter, Samuel McPaul of the Morven Rural Fire Brigade, was killed on Dec. 30. The firetruck he was operating from was pushed over by extreme winds, caused by the fires in NSW. The 28-year-old left behind a pregnant wife, NSW Rural Fire Service said.

The country’s federal water minister, David Littleproud, said the deaths marked “a deeply sad day for the community, for the RFS (Rural Fire Service) and for their families.”

“We thank them and they should be profoundly proud of what these three brave young men have done for their community and their nation,” he added. “They will never be forgotten and we thank them and we thank their families profusely.”

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