Toddler daughter of Australian firefighter presented with her father's helmet and posthumous medal at his funeral

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

The toddler daughter of a firefighter killed battling the bushfires in Australia has been presented with her father's helmet and his posthumous service medal at his funeral in Sydney.

Andrew O'Dwyer's 19-month-old daughter Charlotte, oblivious to where she was, played under her father's casket and was happy to try on his helmet when she was handed it by commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons.

Charlotte being presented with her late father's service medal and helmet. Credit: NSW Rural Fire Service

As she arrived in the arms of her mother, Charlotte - her hair in pigtails - waved to the Rural Fire Service volunteers and representatives from other emergency service agencies as her father's casket was carried in a hearse to the church in Sydney.

Mr O'Dwyer, a 36-year-old volunteer firefighter, was killed alongside colleague Geoff Keaton, also a father of a 19-month-old child, when a tree fell in front of their truck, causing the vehicle to roll off the road as they headed out to fight the fierce blazes southwest of Sydney.

Mr Fitzsimmons paid tribute to Mr O'Dwyer during the service, describing him as a "genuine, decent guy, he loved family, loved brigade, loved outdoors, and loved serving his community."

"Andrew was absolutely an extremely hard worker, he was dedicated, he was truly loyal, I'm reliably informed by both Mill and the Brigade," he said in his eulogy.

"He had a habit of being stubborn from time to time, he was always wanting to get his own way, but as they say, in a good way."

Mr O'Dwyer with his daughter Charlotte. Credit: AP

A third volunteer firefighter, Samuel McPaul, died just before new year when his truck rolled over after being struck by a "fire tornado”. He was expecting his first child with his wife Megan who he had married in 2018.

The majority of the tens of thousands firefighters battling the catastrophic fires in Australia are volunteers.

Bawley Point responding to another call out in NSW. Credit: ITV News

The Australian government announced a compensation scheme to help off-set loss of earnings after spending time away from their jobs. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison had previously refused to consider paying volunteers - who are battling both fires and fatigue as the crisis rages into a third month - saying they "want to be there".

But despite Mr Morrison's apparent U-turn over salary compensation, many volunteer firefighters on employment benefits have had their payment suspended as they are unable to apply for the minimum number of jobs that they are required to in order to receive benefits.

Bawley Point is one of 2,000 crews in New South Wales, a state which is witnessing its worst ever wild fires season.

Crew members told ITV News how they'd missed family birthdays, Christmas and New Year to lend their support to the ongoing fight to control the fires.

Luci Somers, who juggles being a a mum of two and a cook with firefighting, said she was beginning to feel the strain.

"The last few weeks, I physically find it hard to get out of bed. It's just an culmination of exhaustion and not sleeping that well because you're worried."

It is not just the physical toil the fire crews are finding difficult, the emotional strain is also proving challenging.

"It's when you stop that you feel the exhaustion and you may feel some of the emotions," Bawley Point fire captain Charlie Magnuson told ITV News.

"Anyone who doesn't drop a tear now and again seeing the devastation, they must be superman, because I've certainly dropped a few tears."