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Red Cross honors Merrifield brothers for saving neighbor's life

Zack Houle said he feels weird when people call him and his brother Brady "heroes." But the siblings from Merrifield saved the life of neighbor Vernon Taplet from a fire before they were honored recently by the American Red Cross Minnesota Region...

JoAnn Birkholz (left) of Medica Foundation, Zack Houle, a Merrifield native, and American Red Cross Minnesota Region Board Chairman Lee Strom pose at a recent event honoring Houle and his brother Brady for rescuing a neighbor from a house fire. Submitted photo
JoAnn Birkholz (left) of Medica Foundation, Zack Houle, a Merrifield native, and American Red Cross Minnesota Region Board Chairman Lee Strom pose at a recent event honoring Houle and his brother Brady for rescuing a neighbor from a house fire. Submitted photo

Zack Houle said he feels weird when people call him and his brother Brady "heroes."

But the siblings from Merrifield saved the life of neighbor Vernon Taplet from a fire before they were honored recently by the American Red Cross Minnesota Region.

"There was a bunch of smoke rolling down his driveway, and as we got to the top of the driveway, we could hear him screaming for help," Zack recalled.

Taplet was moving his car in the garage when it hit something that caused a gas spill and the fire took over. The brothers noticed the dark cloud of smoke and rushed over to help.

"He was laying on the ground, on the edge of the cement slab in front of his garage, and unable to move," Zack said.

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The 22-year-old graduated from Brainerd High School and Central Lakes College, and works full time at Cub Foods in Brainerd and Baxter.

"When I got off of work and I got home, he was in his yard and even waved at me and nothing was wrong," Zack recalled. "We were just neighborly ... and we always said, 'Hi,' waved."

The date was May 17, 2017-exactly one year and one day, to the date-before the American Red Cross Minnesota Region celebrated its 10th annual Heroes Breakfast at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bloomington, where the brothers received the Youth Good Samaritan Hero award.

"They pretty much saved my life and put their lives in danger to save me," Taplet stated in a news release.

Zack said, "Me and Brady went in there and picked him up as his whole garage and house was behind him in flames, and we carried him out to the road where thankfully another car drove by, and he was able to sit in there until an ambulance came."

Brady is studying law enforcement at Central Lakes College in Brainerd with intentions of become a police officer.

"I always wanted to help people and had the opportunity to do it. ... At the time, I didn't realize I was falling back on my training," Brady said.

The 20-year-old and his older brother were able to convince Taplet to be moved to safety despite the pain he was in from falling to the concrete floor.

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"We just wanted to get (Vernon) out of there. There was stuff with gas on it, things that could have blown up. There was no time to waste," Zack said.

"I put my shirt over my nose as I went running. ... Brady was the one that was on the phone with 911 as we were running up the driveway, and he was the one that was asking Vern all the questions like, 'Is there anybody else in the house?'"

Nothing remains of Taplet's home, according to Zack, but the elderly man did return to the neighborhood to thank the brothers and gave them hugs for saving his life.

"My day-to-day life hasn't really changed. The only thing is, after it happened, I had people who were like, 'Oh, hey, hero!' and stuff like that, and it just kind of feels weird being called a 'hero' because I've never been put in a situation like that," Zack said.

"And ever since I have, people are like, 'Oh, I don't think I could've done that.' But I think if you put anybody in that situation, I think anybody's going to try to do something. And it just kind of proved to me anybody can be a hero. ... You just have to be at the right place at the right time."

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co.
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