8 Apr 2009

Firefighter killed by branch 'didn't hear warning'

4:00 pm on 8 April 2009

A volunteer firefighter who died after a branch from a burning tree fell on him in Canterbury did not hear colleagues telling him to duck.

The Rural Fire Authority says the branch struck Barry James Keen, 52, on the head.

The farmer was part of the first crew to arrive at the scene in Willowby, near Ashburton, about 5am on Wednesday after a burn-off in a paddock spread to the tree.

The authority says Mr Keen had just helped to set up the firetruck and was operating the water pump before he was injured.

He died at the scene despite his colleagues' efforts to revive him.

Ashburton district mayor Bede O'Malley says Mr Keen was a founding member of the Willowby volunteer fire service, with 35 years' experience.

He says Mr Keen had a reputation for being careful and meticulous, but did not hear members of his team warn him to duck.

Mr Keen also served Ashburton's branch of the IHC for 20 years, and received a community award last year for his efforts. Mr O'Malley says he will be deeply missed throughout the district.

Victim Support is helping his widow and immediate family.

The area's principal rural fire officer, Don Geddes, says other crew members are devastated by the death.

The Department of Labour, police and the Fire Service are investigating the incident.