Peter Brown, a decorated Nassau County police officer who earned accolades after saving residents from a burning home in North Merrick after a deadly auto crash, died on Sept. 11 at Plainview Hospital.
He was 73 and died of internal bleeding related to an ulcer.
Brown, who served 22 years in the department, had a flair for heroics — helping to pull a toddler from a cesspool and removing the umbilical cord from around the neck of a newborn he helped deliver.
Nassau police First Deputy Commissioner Kevin Smith said he and many other officers learned the ropes from Brown.
"He had the look of authority, the patience of a saint, and he was one of those people who had a way of, when you talked to him, making you feel that what you were saying was one of great importance," Smith said. "And not everyone has that quality. In our line of work, it’s an exceptional quality to have."
Brown grew up in Massapequa, the oldest of four children to Geraldine Brown, a homemaker, and William Brown, who worked for P.C. Richard.
After graduating from Plainedge High School in North Massapequa, Peter Brown immediately pursued a career in law enforcement, joining the Nassau County Police Department at age 18. He initially served in the Seventh Precinct in Seaford before transitioning to Baldwin’s First Precinct, where he would spend the bulk of his career.
In June 1979, Brown and a local fire chief were able to pull a 2-year-old from a cesspool containing toxic chemicals, family members said.
In 1984, Brown's most dramatic career moment came when a teen driver, who authorities said was speeding in North Merrick and attempting to evade police, hit two cars and smashed into a garage.
The crash touched off a fire that severed a gas line and damaged a home on Meadowbrook Road and four nearby vehicles.
Brown, who had been looking for the fleeing driver, safely evacuated the person from the burning automobile and then rescued residents from nearby homes that had caught on fire. The driver later died of his injuries.
Brown’s heroism, which left him with minor burns on his back, earned him a trip to Washington, D.C., where he received the U.S. Attorney General Distinguished Public Safety Award.
"This incident deeply impacted my father so much that he kept a picture of the teenager on his desk, which remains there today," said Erinn Groh, 40, of Lake Ronkonkoma, the youngest of Brown’s three surviving children.
Brown and his ex-wife settled in Ronkonkoma and had six children including Cathlin Hyland, 50, of Sayville; Ryan Brown, 43, of Southampton; and Groh. A son, Peter, was stillborn and twins James and Matthew were born premature at 5 months and did not survive.
Peter Brown later remarried to Susan Feehan and helped raise her son, Jack Feehan, now 24, of Boston.
Feehan said she met Brown, who also was a talented carpenter, while he was performing work on her house. Their friendship eventually evolved, and the couple was married for 14 years.
"The years that followed were happy, funny and fulfilling, watching our family grow gave Pete stories to tell, which he did well," Feehan said. "Pete was my ‘go-to’ guy for everything. There wasn't a situation that he didn't have the answer to. Pete was a true gentleman, kind and caring."
Brown retired from the Nassau County Police Department in 1991, after suffering a back injury on the job.
A history buff who gobbled up information about President John F. Kennedy, Brown spent his retirement traveling, practicing photography and honing his woodworking skills.
"You always knew he was there for you," Hyland said. "If you ever needed anything, you called and he was there for you immediately. Everything was dropped for you."
A service for Brown was held Sept. 18 in Seaford. Burial was held at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn.
In addition to his wife, his three children and a stepson, he is survived by his sisters Jayne Wynne, Geraldine Boalick and Patricia Spadaro; and four grandchildren.