U.S. marshal honored for his heroic rescue of firefighter

Johnny O’Brien receives Badge of Bravery


Every day, law enforcement officials risk their lives to protect and serve, not for awards or accolades but because it’s their job. One Baldwin resident was recently recognized for going beyond the call of duty.

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice presented Deputy U.S. Marshal Johnny O’Brien with the Congressional Badge of Bravery at a Dec. 29 ceremony at Rice’s Garden City office.

Congress created the award in 2008 to recognize law enforcement officials who demonstrate exceptional bravery. O’Brien received the award for his work with the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, when his team worked with the Eastern District of New York’s Warrant Squad on Staten Island to locate and apprehend a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang, who violated his supervised release and had multiple prior convictions on weapons charges.

“On Aug. 14, 2015, while executing an arrest warrant, the team found a barricaded subject who started a fire in a back bedroom,” Bryan Mullee, acting U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of NY, recounted. “As [the team] entered the apartment, they saw the smoke and backed out and called the Fire Department and the NYPD Emergency Services Unit. When the fire department got there, a firefighter initiated verbal contact with the individual.”

The fugitive began firing a submachine gun, striking an FDNY firefighter who entered the apartment against the Task Force officers’ orders.

According to Mullee, U.S. marshals on the scene “advised against” entering the apartment, but “several minutes later the firefighter pushed past and entered the apartment, and a couple of gunshots rang out. He was struck twice as he tried to exit the apartment, and he collapsed on the floor right in the line of fire.”

O’Brien and fellow U.S. Marshal Trevor McPolin pulled the firefighter from the stairs of the basement apartment while gunfire continued.

“Deputies had to actually enter the premises, return fire and extract the firefighter,” Mullee said. With the assistance of the on-site team, O’Brien dragged the firefighter to safety, and he was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

“The firefighter was treated for his injuries, and is OK,” Mullee added.

The standoff continued for several hours, and the shooter was killed at the scene after firing at NYPD officers. No one else was hurt during the incident. “You don’t really think, you just react,” O’Brien said.

“It’s a good feeling,” he added. “I do this job everyday and I’m not looking for anything. I love the job, and it’s nice to get an award [recognizing] something you did.”

Detective Kristin O’Brien, Johnny’s wife, said the situation felt surreal. “I know what he does every day when he goes to work, but to see [him] kind of recognized for what he and his team did is kind of awesome.”

“The Congressional Badge of Bravery recognizes law enforcement officials who demonstrate exceptional acts of bravery, and there’s no question that Deputy U.S. Marshal O’Brien did just that,” Rice told a crowd of reporters, family members and law enforcement officials.

“Confronted with the basement apartment filling with smoke and a dangerous fugitive gang member firing a submachine gun,” she added. “He and his fellow task force officers risked their own lives to pull a wounded firefighter to safety.

“That is exceptional, extraordinary bravery, especially in the times in which we live.”

Rice extended her gratitude and appreciation to O’Brien and his team, and to local law enforcement members at all levels. “On behalf of everyone in this district, I want to thank you for that, not only for what you did on this one day, but I want to thank you, and Kristen, and all the law enforcement officials here for what you do every day. For the risks you live with every time you wear the uniform, [and] the sacrifices you and your families make for us, I want to thank you for being here and letting us express our gratitude.”