When Homer Police Officer Michael Howell arrived in the early hours of April 5 to 21 Pine St., two residents of the multi-unit complex were standing outside and he could see heavy smoke and the yellow gleam of the fire.
Others were still in the building.
Howell ran in the building and woke a woman in her 70s and helped her get out.
Once she was outside, he went back in to grab another couple who attempted to escape via a rope ladder, but were afraid they wouldn’t fit out the window as the smoke circled in around them.
He went back in a third time, grabbed them, and escorted them out.
“I said, ‘Get low, go fast, we’re getting out of here,’” he said.
But he wasn’t done. He ran back inside a fourth time.
“I found the original apartment door was open 3 to 4 inches,” he said. He shut the door to slow the fire’s spread as Homer and Cortlandville firefighters arrived.
Now, Howell will be recognized in December by the Red Cross of Central New York at its 21st annual Real Hero Breakfast for his efforts that day. The event recognizes people who have gone to extraordinary measures to help someone else.
Police Chief Robert Pitman nominated him for the award and said Howell is well-deserving.
“Although he was aware of the risks involved and his life would be in imminent danger, Officer Howell made the conscious decision to enter the burning building,” Pitman said in a news release.
Pitman said not only did Howell save lives that day, but he helped prevent the fire from spreading.
“It could have been a tragedy,” Pitman said. Howell has been a Homer police officer since 2007 but a first responder for more than 30 years. He is also a medic with the Groton Fire Department.
He said he is honored to receive the award, but he doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He was just doing his job.
“I made a promise and oath to serve and protect the community and that’s what I was thinking at that time — get them out, keep them safe,” he said. “We just do what is needed to be done at that time.”