Courage and Valor Nominee: Joe Brown

The Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, presented by the Fire Engineering Courage and Valor Foundation, commemorates the life and career achievements of Deputy Chief Ray Downey, chief of rescue operations and 39-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Meet this year’s nominees for the award, which is presented annually at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Nominee: Volunteer Lieutenant Joe Brown, Kentland-Prince George’s County #833, Landover, Maryland. He began his fire service career in 2001 with the Upper Montgomery (MD) Fire Department and joined the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department in 2005; he is a technician on Truck 17.
Comment: “Volunteer Lieutenant Brown is credited with the saving of the life of a fellow firefighter by immediately removing the unconscious firefighter from the nearly untenable conditions, and without an SCBA.” Mark E. Brady, Kentland-Prince George’s County Fire/ EMS Department, Landover, Maryland.


On April 8, 2009, just after 1 a.m., Prince George’s County firefighters were dispatched to a reported house fire. The first-due engine, with Firefighter Daniel McGown onboard, arrived and observed a car that was well-involved in fire in a covered carport attached to the house; with fire extension to the interior of the structure. Firefighters advanced a hoseline through the front door and encountered high heat and thick smoke. The crew of three firefighters made their way into the kitchen area and observed an exterior door leading to the carport.

The crew initiated an attack on the fire; shortly after, the interior crew members reported hearing glass crashing and feeling debris falling, which they believed to be a portion of the ceiling. Crew members further reported a significant increase in heat and rapid deterioration of fire conditions. Two of the three firefighters on the attack line reported being struck by a large, heavy object, which they believed to the ceiling.

The crew members became disoriented and temporarily separated from each other when the ceiling, or some other object, came down. Realizing it was time to leave, the crew members exited from the structure. McGown, separated from his other crew members, left the immediate fire area and thought he had made it to the exterior after he had passed through an exterior door and felt a brick wall normally associated with the exterior.

He had actually passed into an addition to the house that still used the original exterior door. He felt what was once the exterior wall. He was within the interior of an attached family room immediately adjacent to the well-involved kitchen area.

Feeling the brick wall led McGown to believe that he was outside of the structure, and he removed his helmet, hood, and SCBA face mask, which was now covered in soot. Recognizing that he was in distress, McGown called for help prior to losing consciousness as a result of inhaling carbon monoxide and other toxic by-products of combustion.

Brown was the officer in charge of Rescue Squad 833. His crew was initially assigned first-due special services responsibilities, which include search and rescue. Brown and another firefighter entered through the front door and initiated a left-hand search through the A quadrant into the B quadrant, where the team encountered high heat and low visibility. Making their way through a systematic search of the first floor, Brown and his partner encountered an unstaffed hoseline in their search area. Brown directed a firefighter from his crew to operate the hoseline to support the search. Brown then continued his search.

Brown, as well as the first-floor division supervisor, reported hearing the sound of a PASS device, and each started to track the sound. Brown followed the sound of the device and located McGown in quadrant D near a window on side Delta. Brown cleared the remaining glass from the window and made face-to-face contact with the driver of the rescue squad, who was on a ladder outside at the window. Brown informed the driver of the downed firefighter and instructed him to radio a Mayday to Command. Other interior firefighters arrived to help in the immediate removal of McGown through the window and down a ground ladder. Other crew members continued to operate the attack line, keeping the fire in check during the rescue operation.

Paramedics transported McGown to the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit with serious burns to his face, hands, and respiratory tract. He spent the next three weeks in the intensive care unit before being released to recover at home. McGown has since returned to full duty.

MARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.

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