Posted by Kevin Jacobsen
Irish heritage, fishing and a bit of modesty run through the veins of Mark Howard, Duluth's last commercial fisherman.
"I keep to myself and try to work," said Howard. I talk to people and say hi. Try to help people when I can."
It's that attitude that likely helped saved lives on July 8th, 2008.
Mark Howard was having his daily cup of coffee at Jim's Hamburgers when a fire broke out nearby at 1923 West Superior Street.
"I looked over and see the smoke," said Howard. No one could get through on the phones. I tried calling 911 but they had a system failure all over Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Howard ran over to the building where a crowd was already gathered.
Faced with time and options running out, he knew he had to see if anyone were inside.
"The flames come out; it was already a working fire. I couldn't get inside, couldn't go up the stairs."
Despite the challenges, Howard managed to find a way to get inside and was horrified to find people trapped inside.
"I seen a woman's feet, a guy's feet, heard from them talking, trying to find car keys and glasses. They were all in their pj's, underwear, (I said) gotta got get out of here now."
Blinded by smoke and hampered by heat, he rushed to round up the people and shepherd them out of the building.
"I had to keep making mental picture because of the smoke. Which way I turned which way I went."
Keeping that image in mind, three scorching minutes later, he was able to get four people to safety. He only had time to catch a breath of fresh air before being told someone was still trapped inside. This time the rescue was even more complicated.
Said Howard, "Guys says ya my brother is in there but he had back surgery, couldn't walk hardly."
Facing escalating fire and heat, Mark Howard made the decision that he couldn't leave the man trapped. Risking his life, he went back in.
"I did what I think I should have done. I think it's something I'd want someone to do for me."
It's a sense of selflessness that kept five people alive.
Mark Howard says every now and then he bumps into some of the people he rescued and each time they give him a hug. The apartment building sustained $150,000 dollars in damage.