North Dakota Firefighter, Burning, Ran for His Life

His bare arms were on fire -- flames visible, on the skin of his forearms. He may not have noticed that problem right away because there wasn't any pain.


"It's so touching," Keller said of the community's efforts.

He isn't totally comfortable in the new role.

Keller said the main thing he remembers enjoying when he was a shy kid in Center, son of an electrician, was helping people. He remembers adults thinking of him as being trustworthy and dependable; he would help people by mowing yards, volunteering for things. That's how he ended up, at age 16, volunteering for Center's fire department. After high school, he became an EMT for an ambulance service. Then came a career in law enforcement after college and more volunteering.

Somewhere along that line there was a blind date. Love at first sight, then a break-up when they decided things were going too fast. But Mark and Michelle never stopped thinking about each other. Two years later, he picked up the phone and called her with a lame excuse. She had been thinking about him for two years, too, and they agreed to meet at Denny's for coffee.

About eight months after that, one evening, he was pacing back and forth near her and then he proposed. About 10 months later, they were married.

They started married life last year in a house he had bought in Wilton, a town he plans to stay in.

Keller signed up with Wilton's department about three years ago and had since become the department's training officer.

Until April 8 the young couple's biggest challenge was a tight budget, keeping the bills paid. Everything else reportedly was pretty peachy.

On April 8, he had some time, so he was at the fire station cleaning vehicles.

"A clean truck is a happy truck," he said.

So he had a clean truck, filled with water, when he got the page.

Turn the page.

Many, many, many months from now, he'll have all of this behind him, he expects.

And the community who helped him will get his help back.

Keller wants the community to know "it won't be forgotten."

"I don't know how to explain how I feel for all the people who have done this for us."

There also has been help in Minnesota. His wife, who arrived in St. Paul with just the clothes on her back, was taken under the wing of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police.

To be able to have his wife with him has been crucial: "I'd be lost without her."

He took off his wedding ring after the fire and gave it to a friend for safe-keeping. He can't wear it right now. It's too small and not the thing to be wearing on a healing finger that recently has been under the knife because the new skin wouldn't take.

That's OK. The ring is still in plain sight.

For someone needing to pick Michelle out of a crowd: She's the one with the big wedding ring on a chain around her neck.

And for those who want to pick her out, they'll have a special moment to do that. The couple just found out Thursday that he will be discharged June 5.

He made it.

Next step: Making it back to Wilton, from where he will commute daily to Bismarck for outpatient therapy.

They'll be arriving on a plane at the Bismarck airport. Details later.