2 men honored for saving 8 people from South Bend fire

Published: Jan. 15, 2020 at 6:11 PM EST
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The South Bend Board of Public Safety is honoring two everyday citizens for their heroic acts that saved eight lives.

On Dec. 22, 2019, 20-year-old Mike Sells and Darnell Johnson saw Harrison's Furniture on fire and noticed people living atop the Miami Street business.

"I'm like, 'There could be children in there. There could be people asleep. Anything,'" recalled Sells, of South Bend. "'We need to get in there.'"

Sells said he believes Johnson, a fellow passerby, was calling 911. Then Sells said he broke open a first-floor door to run up to the second floor and alert residents about the fire he spotted at the base of the building.

Johnson also knocked on people's doors, with both men helping eight people escape to the front and back staircases as first responders arrived on scene.

Sells said he was told that children were among the eight survivors.

"I wasn't worried about getting in trouble. I wasn't worried about getting a prize. I wasn't worry about anything except for those people's lives," Sells explained.

He also twice tried to put out the first-story fire using extinguishers he found inside the building.

Normally, firefighters discourage citizens from doing their jobs for safety reasons.

On Wednesday, Fire Chief Todd Skwarcan did make one concession regarding what Sells and Johnson did on Dec. 22: "But in this case, it definitely made a difference in the outcome."

Sells has always aspired to be a firefighter and thinks his incidental taste of the fire service in December will motivate him to pursue the career. He already sounds like a firefighter too.

"I don't feel like a hero. I don't feel like a special person. I don't feel any different, honestly," he said.

Sells accepted the commendations coins at the Wednesday public safety meeting on behalf of Johnson, who was not able to attend.