‘I’m not leaving my wife’: Elderly Missouri couple dies in house fire

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NEW MELLE, Mo. — The emergency dispatcher who took a Missouri man’s 911 call reporting a house fire early Thursday morning told the 84-year-old man to leave the burning home.

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But Kenneth Zerr refused to leave his beloved wife, Phyllis, in the flames and smoke.

“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,” Andy Zerr, the couple’s son, told KSDK.

Officials with the New Melle Fire Protection District stated Thursday afternoon that they believed an appliance in the basement sparked the blaze, but the investigation remains ongoing, the TV station reported.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Phyllis Zerr became trapped in a bathroom as the fire spread, and Kenneth Zerr soaked towels in water and stuffed them under the door in hopes it would buy firefighters enough time to save them both.

First responders “found heavy smoke coming out of the roof of the home” and set about rescuing the couple from the back of the home, but “the floor began to collapse and conditions were worsening,” a news release stated.

Although firefighters escaped the blaze before the floor collapsed completely, by the time they re-entered the home, the Zerrs had died, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Andy Zerr told KTVI that his parents, who celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary in September, died holding hands.

“They loved each other to the end,” he told the TV station.