N.H. city honors man who helped save fire captain during fatal 2021 blaze
“I have a firefighter brother, and when I saw what was happening and that they needed some help, all I could see was my brother up there,” Aaron Murrell said
By Paul Feely
The New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Steve DesRuisseaux always felt another soul was present the night he almost died fighting a fatal fire in Manchester a year ago — a shadowy memory of a man helping to free him after his gear got snagged on a ladder.
He just wasn’t sure who. Until the mystery man walked into Central Fire Station in September, looking to say hello.
“It was the missing piece in all this,” said DesRuisseaux, a captain with the Manchester Fire Department.
Aaron Murrell, the neighbor who rushed to help firefighters responding to a fatal blaze on Dutton Street on Nov. 6, 2021, was honored Tuesday night at City Hall before a large crowd of firefighters, friends and family.
“I was battalion chief that night,” said Assistant Fire Chief Dave Fleury. “What a lot of us don’t know is that there was one individual there, an innocent bystander, and had he not done what he did that night, that night would have turned out a lot differently.”
DesRuisseaux read aloud Tuesday a resolution honoring Murrell for his actions. The firefighter was visibly overcome with emotion as he described the events of the night he received third-degree burns on more than a third of his body.
Murrell received a standing ovation.
“Thank you for your generosity, but the truth of the matter is those are the real heroes,” said Murrell, pointing at firefighters behind him. “I have a firefighter brother, and when I saw what was happening and that they needed some help, all I could see was my brother up there, so I did what I had to do. But these folks run into fires every single day of their lives, and they never know if they’re going to make it.”
DesRuisseaux returned to duty over the summer, seven months after the incident.
Kathryn Conn, 59, of Manchester died of smoke inhalation in the fire at 10 Dutton St., a six-unit multi-family building. Her body was found on a second-floor back porch after the fire was put out.
Firefighters rescued six people, including a baby, officials said. Two girls, two men and a woman were rescued from the third floor, and a man was helped down from the second floor by ladder.
“As I was making the second-floor rescues, that’s when everything lit up,” DesRuisseaux said. “Conditions deteriorated rapidly. As I was trying to make it out the window, I dove on the ladder and my gear got hung up, with my air pack on the top of the ladder. I was involved in direct fire for about 30 seconds.”
Lt. Scott Brassard climbed the ladder to try to free DesRuisseaux.
“I could see him face-to-face for about 20 seconds,” DesRuisseaux said. “I kept yelling at him to ‘dump the ladder, dump the ladder.’ They were trying to free me up but I knew there was no way it was going to work. I was flailing, and knew I was still in the window.”
Firefighter Joshua Charpentier noticed heavy fire coming from the second floor and decided to knock the ladder away from the building to get DesRuisseaux out of the flames
“I remember falling, vividly,” DesRuisseaux. “It was the best feeling because I knew I had a chance.”
DesRuisseaux vaguely recalled another person being there, a man not in firefighter’s gear, working to help him.
He said that as state fire officials began investigating the incident, body camera footage from first responders confirmed his memory. But it wasn’t until this past September, when Murrell stopped by Central Fire Station, that the two met.
'This is it': N.H. firefighter describes mayday, rescue from fatal fire
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The resolution from the city honors Murrell for arriving at the scene before firefighters and alerting fire crews that elderly residents who lived in the building may be inside.
He noticed DesRuisseaux stuck on the top of the ladder, saw firefighters struggling to reach him and ran over “against the extreme heat” and helped knock the ladder to the ground.
Desruisseaux’s voice trembled as he read aloud the lines, “If not for the heroic actions of Mr. Murrell, Captain DesRuisseaux would not be with us today.”
Murrell said, “If I had to, I would do it again.”
“These guys deserve all the help they can get and they need more support,” Murrell said. “It wasn’t just me out there. I’m actually proud of our whole neighborhood. Everybody went out there to save those people. Unfortunately one person lost their life that day. Without a doubt you risk your lives every single day, and I for one will never forget it.”
In a social media post on Wednesday, Mayor Joyce Craig said Murrell risked his life to save DesRuisseaux, “and for that, we are eternally grateful.”
“May his selfless actions on behalf of the people in need serve as an inspiration for us all,” Craig posted.
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