Legendary Firefighters: Pender, Murphy, and Johnston - Never Retreat, Never Give Up

Last updated: September 10, 2022

In 2008, the Brookline Fire Department was called out to a three-alarm fire in a two-family home. On arrival, the firefighters got to work to save anyone they could.

Without warning, an unseen propane tank positioned on the second floor porch exploded.

The fire grew exponentially with the added explosion, causing parts of the second floor to collapse. The blast caught firefighter Stephen Nelson by surprise, blowing his mask off and trapping him under falling debris.

Two other firefighters were also caught in the explosion and blown thrown the stairs. One of these other two was Acting Lieutenant Gerald Murphy. He quickly got up and ran a hose up to where Nelson was trapped, pouring water over the debris to keep the flames back.

Frederick "Rick" Johnston and Lieutenant Paul Pender were both outside at the time of the blast but immediately ran into the burning building to help rescue the others.

Successful Rescue

Lieutenant Murphy helped the other firefighters locate Nelson as he continued to keep the flames back. The men had to get on the ground and crawl through the burning debris to reach their semiconscious comrade.

They eventually got Nelson out and everyone was able to safely retreat from the building. Thankfully no one died, though Nelson and seven other firefighters sustained sever injuries and burns.

Deputy Chief Robert Nelson, Stephen's brother and the incident commander on the scene, was unable to abandon his post. Instead, he did the right thing in manning his position and trusting that his men would get the job done..

"Somehow, you know things. I knew they’d get him,... Murphy never left the top of the stairs. He stayed there, getting burned. He knew my brother was up there."

Boston Globe & BJA

Medals of Valor

In a ceremony at the White House in 2010, all four firefighters were awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest award for public service in the nation, in 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 dangerous rescue of Stephen Nelson.

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.’’

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3 comments on “Legendary Firefighters: Pender, Murphy, and Johnston - Never Retreat, Never Give Up”

  1. Please always include the state. of each incident. New York, California, or my favorite West Virginia.

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