A volunteer firefighter who was killed Monday when the truck he was in flipped in a “fire tornado” was expecting his first child in May with his wife who he married in April last year.
Samuel McPaul, 28, died in an “extraordinary weather event” on Monday afternoon when his truck rolled while driving near Holbrook, a small town in southern New South Wales, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on Tuesday.
“The local crews at the accident scene described it as truly horrific, a fire tornado.”
Mr Fitzsimmons described the soon-to-be-father as “well respected and admired throughout the local community and in his local brigade” as he addressed media this morning, visibly holding back tears at one point.
“He leaves behind, tragically, a beautiful wife, Megan, who is pregnant with their first child, that's due on May 4.”
The #NSWRFS firefighter killed at the Green Valley Fire, east of Albury is Samuel McPaul from the Morven Brigade in the Southern Border Team. Today Service flags will be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect.— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) 30 December 2019
Our thoughts are with Sam’s family, friends & fellow Brigade members. pic.twitter.com/co28qXK1E6
“As you would expect, the family is grieving and it's been a very difficult night - it would be fair to say I don't even think the comprehension has set in of the enormity of the tragedy and the loss,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
"Megan and Sam have been married now for nearly 18 months, they were married only in April of 2018, so we've got a completely devastated family, a devastated local community at has been an extraordinary loss."
Two male colleagues in the truck - aged 39 and 52 - suffered burns and were taken to hospital. The 39-year-old was airlifted to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and remains in a serious condition.
The firefighters were working on the Green Valley bushfire at the time which has burned more than 2000 hectares and was imminently threatening isolated properties on both sides of the NSW-Victoria border on Monday evening.
Another firefighter was taken to hospital after a second vehicle working in the same area was also blown over.
NSW detectives were on scene investigating the crashes on Monday evening.
The RFS said its thoughts were with all the firefighters' families, friends and brigade members.
The incident takes to three the number of firefighters killed while battling blazes in NSW this season.
Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, died on December 19 when a tree fell into the path of their tanker, causing it to roll as they were travelling in a convoy near Buxton, southwest of Sydney.
Almost 100 blazes continue to burn across NSW, with dozens uncontained.
In Sydney on Tuesday, strong dry winds, poor air quality and temperatures touching 33C are expected while the city's west will surpass 40C.
Leaders grieve the loss
Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged "these are testing times" and said he was "so grateful for the courage and dedication of our firefighters".
"This is awful news for the families and our sympathies are with them," he tweeted.
Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the incident was "a tragic reminder of the very real dangers our emergency workers face to keep us safe".
"The RFS has lost another member of its family, a young man fighting fires in his local community. He died in very, very difficult circumstances," Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Tuesday.
"This brings home to us what NSW is going through - every fire front is a threat to life, a threat to people's life as they know it."
A Go Fund Me account to support Samuel McPaul’s family in the wake of his passing was started within hours of the news.
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