In 2008, the Brookline Fire Department was called out to a three-alarm fire in a two-family home. There was a propane tank positioned on the second floor porch.
When it exploded, the fire grew exponentially, causing parts of the second floor to collapse. One of the firefighters on the scene, Stephen Nelson, was trapped on the second floor underneath debris and surrounded by fire. The blast blew off his air mask. Two other firefighters had been blown down the stairs.
One of them was Acting Lieutenant Gerald Murphy. He quickly got up and ran a hose up to where Nelson was, pouring water where Nelson was stuck. Frederick “Rick” Johnston and Lieutenant Paul Pender were both outside at the time and ran into the building to find Nelson.
Murphy helped the other firefighters locate Nelson as he kept spraying. The men had to get on the ground and crawl through flames to reach him. When they found him, he was semiconscious.
Thankfully no one died in the fire. However, Nelson and seven other firefighters all sustained injuries and burns.
Deputy Chief Robert Nelson was the incident commander on the scene, and Nelson’s brother. Since he was the incident commander, he had to wait outside and hope that they would reach his brother in time.
“Somehow, you know things. I knew they’d get him,’’ Robert Nelson said. “Murphy never left the top of the stairs. He stayed there, getting burned. He knew my brother was up there.’’
Medals of Valor
In a ceremony at the White House in 2010, all four firefighters were awarded the Medal of Valor. There was a ceremony hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder.
The Medal of Valor was given to them for going above and beyond the call of duty in the rescue of Nelson. The Medal of Valor was the highest award for public service in the nation.
Michael J O’Reilly, Brookline fire chief of operations said, “I’m proud to have been able to serve with them side by side. They really do epitomize what a firefighter is.’’