Elderly couple, married 63 years, die in fiery house blaze after husband tells 911 dispatcher “I’m not leaving my wife”

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New Melle, MO: An elderly couple became trapped in their bedroom and were killed by smoke inhalation after their home became engulfed in flames. The husband had an opportunity to escape the inferno but refused to leave his wife of 63 years behind.

Kenneth and Phyllis Zerr, both 84 years old- and long-time residents of New Melle, Missouri, were in their beloved family home when they noticed a massive fire break out during the early morning hours.

The Fire Incident

Kenneth was first to notice the blaze and immediately called 911. He then headed to open the front door for the first responders, who arrived a few short moments later.

Elderly couple, married 63 years, die in fiery house blaze after husband tells 911 dispatcher "I'm not leaving my wife"
The couple were married for 63 years, true love. Image from KDSK News YouTube channel

He then went back towards to rear of the home where the bedrooms were located to assist his wife Phyllis, who moves about with the aid of a wheelchair.

However, as the fire and smoke began to spread, Kenneth made his way to his wife, who was in the bathroom of the master bedroom.

As he went to assist her in escaping, she lost her balance and feel to the floor. By this time, the floor began to collapse throughout portions of the home, essentially trapping them.

While the couple were in the bathroom, firefighters arrived and were making their way to the rear. The floor began collapsing around them too and they were forced to retreat.

Kenneth, who was still on the phone with 911 dispatchers was advised to make his way out of the home any way he could. But he had other plans- there was no way he could leave Phyllis.

Son Speaks Out

The couple’s son, Andy Zerr, tearfully spoke with local media about what happened next. Andy stated:

Elderly couple, married 63 years, die in fiery house blaze after husband tells 911 dispatcher "I'm not leaving my wife"
A view of the home. Image taken from KDSK News YouTube channel.

“The dispatch was on the phone with my father and my father was trying to help my mother out of the house and they got trapped.” 

Andy continued:

“The dispatch told my father to come out of the house and my father said, ‘I’m not leaving my wife,’ and stayed with her until the end.”

After responding firefighters were able to regain control of the situation and reduce the fire and smoke, they reentered the home.

They headed to the rear of the home and found the couple lying on floor next to each other, deceased from smoke inhalation. Kenneth stayed true to his word. And just like he has done the past 63 years, he was there for her when she needed him.

A true love story ending in tragedy.

Elderly couple, married 63 years, die in fiery house blaze after husband tells 911 dispatcher "I'm not leaving my wife"

The couple left behind a large loving family. They had three children, six grandchildren and a dozen great grandchildren.
They were not just loved by a large family; they were beloved within the small town. They left a large gap in the town and the community was shocked when they heard what happened.

Their son Andy, told local media:

“Everybody wanted to be like them, and everybody wanted to be with them. My mom and dad were salt of the earth.”

The local fire department also took to social media to express their condolences. In their statement, they said:

“Crews were dispatched this morning for an unknown type fire on Tall Cedar Ct. The first arriving truck was our station 1 (8914) who found heavy smoke coming out of the roof of the home. They immediately called for a first alarm (the designation that gets multiple fire trucks, ems and chiefs) as dispatch advised that there were two people trapped in a back bedroom in the home.”

It continued:

“This is a hard hit for our small community. All the crews on the scene did everything humanly possible to rescue the victims.”

Check Your Fire Alarms

It was unclear if the couple had working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It is also a stark reminder to routinely inspect your fire alarm system and ensure you have a functioning fire extinguisher that is easily accessible to everyone.

Also take the time to teach every family member what the emergency fire procedures are, how to operate the fire extinguisher and to have other emergency items on hand like flashlights, spare batteries, blankets- anything that could help in an emergency situation.

Too many people look back after an emergency and say ‘we should’ve done this or we should’ve done that.’ Well now is a good time to do it, your family deserves it.

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Elderly couple, married 63 years, die in fiery house blaze after husband tells 911 dispatcher "I'm not leaving my wife"

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