As fighting fires becomes the new normal, the NSW Rural Fire Service is today in mourning for the lives of two volunteer firefighters lost overnight from the Horsely Park Brigade near Sydney.
This morning NSW Rural Fire Service Association President Brian McDonough said that Rural Fire Service volunteers and staff are devastated by the tragic incident which claimed the lives of two firefighters and injured three others last night.
‘Our hearts are breaking for the families, friends, and fellow crew members of Deputy Captain Geoffrey Keaton and Firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer from Horsley Park Brigade,’ he said.
Initial inquiries revealed the RFS truck, which contained five male RFS volunteers, was responding to bushfires and travelling on Wilson Drive, Buxton, when a tree fell onto the cabin about 11.30pm (Thursday 19 December 2019).
The truck appears to have travelled out of control for a short distance before rolling over. Deputy Captain Geoffrey Keaton and Firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer were in the front seat and died at the scene.
Three other passengers were able to free themselves from the truck and were treated by NSW Ambulance paramedics and taken to Liverpool Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
RFS family in mourning
‘Our members know that what we do can be dangerous,’ said Mr McDonough. ‘But nothing can take away the pain we all feel when facing such terrible loss.
‘The RFS family is in mourning.’
Crash investigators are continuing inquiries into the tragedy.
Union slams NSW Government’s ‘lack of leadership’
This morning NSW State Secretary of Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and serving firefighter Leighton Drury addressed media slamming the lack of leadership being shown during the current bushfire crisis amid budget cuts to fire services and regional communities.
Mr Drury is calling the NSW Government to respond to this state of emergency with increased funding for firefighters – where the State Government still does not consider firefighters as frontline and therefore subject to budget cuts. It follows the decision to downgrade the firefighting staffing in two regional areas, as temperatures soar and fires rage.
‘We’ve been living through one of the worst droughts ever in Australian history. Now we are living through one of the worst bushfire seasons. How much longer must we wait for the government to recognise the seriousness of the situation and increase funding to the frontline?’ said Mr Drury.
‘As my members were on taskforces alongside RFS volunteers fighting fires yesterday, senior people within Fire Rescue NSW sat across from me and told me that two communities would have fewer firefighters as of today.
‘Budget cuts have left us without the resources we need, and Fire Rescue have responded by reducing regional community fire services as a result. It’s beyond belief. Homes are being destroyed and lives being lost – yesterday alone we lost 40 houses across NSW.’
‘In regional NSW, in Urunga and Peak Hill, minimum staffing has been reduced from four to two. Due to budget cuts, we do not have the resources to deploy the fire trucks that these towns need. Instead they are having their trucks taken and replaced with ‘tankers’; these can only hold two firefighters, whereas fire trucks can hold four firefighters.
‘Less firefighters on scene means not entering structures – such as houses and factories – more destruction, more damage and more time to control these blazes.
‘What has happened to the Government’s promise that we have everything we need?’