Men are made in tough situations

Many early mornings a man comes into Kimberly Durham's job at Burger King. The man is Ernest Settles, and he gets his wife coffee before going to his barber shop.

Settles is a retired Rock Hill firefighter. He served almost 30 years. He was the first modern day black firefighter in his city. Settles will often ask Durham about her family.

"The boys are good, grown men now," Durham said she often says.

Settles is part of the reason her boys are grown. Still, they don't talk about the fire.

This past week, as the whole country followed the deaths of nine firefighters in Charleston, Kimberly Durham pulled out a scrapbook.

"All those people going in there to save others, makes you remember," Durham said.

It's a scrapbook of life after the fire at her home eight years ago, not death after the fire. Because of a teen who acted like a man that day, and a man who had guts.

Heroes, right here in Rock Hill, nearly eight years later working their jobs.

On Dec. 28, 1999, Durham was at work at Burger King. Her sons, Robert, then 18, Keyoba, then 15, and Karond, then 12, who is autistic, were home at 459 Summit St. Robert's 1-year-old son, Malik, also was there.

Robert, now 25, remembers it was around lunchtime.

"I went out to the store real quick and I came back; the house was on fire," he said.

Keyoba Durham is a grown man now, too. Works third shift, with a fiancee and a beautiful daughter, Kayla. He said that the fire spread quickly, and so he took his nephew out the front door first and went back to get his brother out the back.

Keyoba got the boys out, but both managed to get back in, he recalled.

Settles was heading for lunch from the barber shop that day. He saw the smoke and leaped from his truck and ran for the house.

"I heard, 'Help, help,'" Settles recalled.

Karond was holding tight to the bedpost, and Settles said he had to pry his hands loose. Tangela Boger, Settles' niece, was outside that day and saw, "my uncle Ernest come flying out the window with the boy."

"You either have a good heart and do the right thing, act like a man, or you don't," Boger said. "He did."

Settles accepts no praise. This is the same guy who pulled a man out of the burning Cobb House apartments more than two decades earlier when he was working as a firefighter.

"I did what I thought I had to do," Settles said. "Thank God the worst that could have happened didn't happen."

Keyoba Durham rarely talked about the fire afterward. He went on to be a star tight end and defensive end at Rock Hill High School. No. 32. He played in a state championship game and the North/South all-star game.

"You don't brag about stuff like that," Keyoba said about the fire. "It had to be done."

But his older brother Robert puts it this way: "My brother risked his life to save my other brother and my son. We either stand up, or we run. He stood up."

Kimberly Durham lost her house that day, all her family's possessions. But her family survived.

Settles the retired firefighter knows why those nine firefighters went in that burning building in Charleston Monday night. It was their job, their duty, he said.

Ernest Settles could have driven right by on that December day. He could have worried about himself first.

But he didn't.