Following the state’s disastrous bushfire season earlier this year, eight new names have been added to the memorial plaque of volunteer emergency service workers.
Engraved on Mrs Macquaries Chair at The Royal Botanic Garden, this year’s additions were all volunteers from the NSW Rural Fire Service.
The names of Michael Maria, Phillip Bell, Ian Long, Robert Panitz, Geoffrey Keaton, Andrew O’Dwyer, Samuel McPaul and Colin Burns joined many other volunteers from the NSW RFS, State Emergency Service, Volunteer Rescue Association, Marine Rescue and predecessor organisations who sadly lost their lives.
Mr Keaton, 32, Mr O’Dwyer, 36, Mr McPaul, 28, and Mr Burns, 72, died during the 2019-2020 bushfires.
The other four volunteers passed away of illnesses as a result of their service.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the attendance was smaller than usual with the RFS prioritising the families and friends of the members whose names were added.
One at a time, attendees — including representatives from the Marine Service, Volunteer Rescue Association, the Police Force and ambulance services — as well as family and friends laid wreaths and paid respects to those who lost their lives.
Speaking at the annual Emergency Service Volunteer Memorial Service held in Sydney, Emergency Service Minister David Elliott said our emergency services personnel had taken up the stature of the new ANZACs.
“That spirit of service and sacrifice, of doing what is right, putting your life on the line without thought of recognition or reward on behalf of your fellow Australians,” he said.
“No living Australian would find a year where our emergency services, particular our volunteer emergency services, have been in the forefront of the Australian way of life.
“I don’t think there would be a time in living memory where the people of Australia owe such a debt of gratitude to emergency services.”
“We’re not only commemorating the loss of life, and remembering the sacrifice paid, but we’re also celebrating the valour of those who had fallen.”
Senior Chaplain at NSW Rural Fire Service Ian Spall said volunteers left their homes vulnerable to protect other in danger by responding to fires, rising flood water, crashes, people trapped, overturned boats and people lost at sea.
He said those who lost their lives in the line of duty demonstrated a sacrificial love in a practical way, by putting others’ needs ahead of their own.
“As we gather here today, we’re conflicted by this scene of loss and the blessing of knowing them,” Mr Spall said.
“These people gave not just time and energy, they gave their life … There is no greater love than to lay down your life for another.
“Their families and loved ones would know all the sacrifices they would have gave over their times of service.
“We’re all joined together by their commonality of grief, love, honour and respect … We acknowledge there was a lasting impact of those lives on people who remain.”
The memorial is held annually on the second Sunday in October.