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12th Nov 2022

Couple married for 63 years die in house fire after husband refuses to leave injured wife’s side

Steve Hopkins

‘Everybody wanted to be like them and everybody wanted to be with them. My mom and dad were salt of the earth’

An elderly couple – married for 63 years – both died in a house fire after the husband told emergency dispatches that he would “not leave my wife” who was injured.

Kenneth and Phyllis Zerr, both 84, of New Melle, Minnesota, died around 1am Thursday from a suspected electrical fire in the home they had shared for 18 years.

The fire service said the blaze started on the bottom floor of the home, eventually working its way upstairs to the two bedrooms.

The couple had been hiding in the master bedroom and when firefighters arrived, the entire upstairs floor began to collapse, the New Melle Fire Protection District said.

Kenneth had tried to help his wife, who had fallen in the bathroom, out of the home when dispatchers told him to get out now. He refused, the couple became trapped.

The couple’s son, Andy, told 5 On Your Side: “My father said: ‘I’m not leaving my wife,’ and he stayed with her until the very end.”

Kenneth reportedly shoved wet towels under the door in a hope that firefighters would reach them before the fire did.

But, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, by the time fire fighters reached the couple they had already passed away.

“The house was full of smoke. They couldn’t see. Zero visibility,” Fire Chief Dan Casey told the Post-Dispatch.

Firefighters “were feeling around the bed, under the bed, on top of the bed,” but as the floor gave out, “they have to leave”.

“The floor started giving way so they had to back out. They made it out in the nick of time,” Casey said.

The couple shared the home with their oldest daughter Brenda and her husband, which confused matters for fire fighters, but they wee vacationing at the time.

The couple’s home, according to reports, was the centre of family life, where their children, six grandchildren, and dozen of great-grandchildren enjoyed every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

“Everybody wanted to be like them and everybody wanted to be with them. My mom and dad were salt of the earth,” Andy told 5 On Your Side. ‘

“They will be dearly missed. They were a pillar of the community. They were our rocks. They were our foundation. They were our wisdom.’ Kenneth, a retired IT services VP for Community Federal Bank, had just celebrated his 84th birthday on Tuesday and the couple celebrated 63 years of marriage in September. Phyllis was a retired receptionist for Prairie Farms.”

In their retirement, the couple loved to travel and had made several trips together, Andy told the Post-Dispatch.

“They loved being together. They loved life.”

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