Hometown Heroes: Veteran firefighter Josh Charpentier dedication amid danger

  • Josh Charpentier at the New Hampshire Fallen Firefighters Memoriali n Concord on Friday, March 25, 2022. Charpentier says it is the entire Manchester Fire Engine Co. 11 share in this recognition, this selfless act, once again eating smoke, tolerating pain for the sake of others, and reinforcing its universal ‘just-doing-my-job’ motto. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Josh Charpentier at the New Hampshire Fallen Firefighters Memoriali n Concord on Friday, March 25, 2022. Charpentier says it is the entire Manchester Fire Engine Co. 11 share in this recognition, this selfless act, once again eating smoke, tolerating pain for the sake of others, and reinforcing its universal ‘just-doing-my-job’ motto. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Josh Charpentier at the New Hampshire Fallen Firefighters Memorial Concord in late March. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/3/2022 8:01:22 PM

The first sign that the fire might be deadly was the view Josh Charpentier, racing to an apartment building blaze last November, had from a Manchester hillside.

“We could see a long black column of smoke,” the 19-year veteran firefighter said. “We knew at that point that we had a fire to go to and we needed to get to work fast.”

Charpentier’s work on this call — kicking a ladder away from a second-story porch to stop the flames from spreading to an already severely-burned firefighter — earned the Epsom resident the Monitor’s weekly Hometown Hero honor.

Charpentier and the entire Manchester Fire Engine Co. 11 share in this recognition, this selfless act, once again eating smoke, tolerating pain for the sake of others, and reinforcing its universal “just-doing-my-job” motto.

They saved six people. One person, 59-year-old Kathryn Conn, died of smoke inhalation. Authorities blamed the fire on an electrical issue.

Charpentier lives in Epsom with his wife, Lexi, who nominated her husband without his knowledge.

He coaches his kids in youth sports, volunteers for Epsom’s youth sports program, teaches at the New Hampshire Fire Academy and its two affiliates, and is a full-time firefighter in Manchester.

And, oh yes, he saves lives too.

“He was recently involved in a large fire in Manchester where he works as a full-time firefighter,” Lexi wrote. “Due to his heroic behavior, one of his fellow firefighters is alive, and residents of the building are too.”

The message that emerged that fall night at 10 Dutton St., the sense of urgency and danger that permeated the air like thick smoke, grew louder and clearer once Charpentier saw Steve DesRuisseaux’s flashlight through the smoke and heard his captain, high on a ladder, 2½ stories up, shout frantically, “Get up here.”

DesRuisseaux had helped a resident onto the ladder, which leaned against a second-floor porch. With flames and smoke moving in and the resident already out the window, everything changed in an instant.

Before DesRuisseaux and the person he had guided onto the ladder could descend safely to the ground, a flashover emerged in an instant, meaning the fire in that general area, engulfing the porch and reaching out for the ladder, had hit its ignition temperature, creating a blinding light, more heat and, for that moment, a fire that was mobile.

DesRuisseaux, who had radioed that his team was in “rescue mode,” hurled himself headfirst onto the ladder. That’s standard practice.

“When it’s time to go, you go head first and then after a few rungs, you turn yourself around,” Charpentier explained.

But the captain’s air-pack straps slid over the top of the ladder, leaving DesRuisseaux upside down, helpless and on fire as he dangled off the ladder, between it and the porch.

“It all went off at the same time,” Charpentier said, explaining the sudden impact of the flashover. “Steve was on fire. All of him was on fire, from his head to his toes.”

With DesRuisseaux’s life in danger and the fire roaring on the second-floor porch, Charpentier knew he had one chance to save a firefighter who had already suffered second and third-degree burns.

He pushed a resident, whom he had saved from a window, off the lower portion of the ladder and turned his attention to DesRuisseaux. He kicked out that ladder, with his captain at least 15 feet in the air, to move him away from the flames.

“The suits protect us,” Charpentier said, “but they are not fireproof. We had to think outside the box. There was nothing else to do. He was stuck.”

Lt. Scott Brassard sprained his ankle in the fall. DesRuisseaux’s new equipment, including his helmet and faceguard, helped him avoid injury.

But he sustained those serious burns over 40% of his body. He spent 28 days in the hospital. He rolled outside in a wheelchair in late November, received an ovation from family and friends and gave the thumbs up.

Charpentier said DesRuisseaux, who was unavailable for comment, planned to return to work soon, his spot ready and waiting.

He had been saved by someone who knows his stuff. Charpentier’s father, grandfather, uncle and a cousin or two blazed a trail, working as full-time firefighters and setting a career path for young Charpentier that resonated with him then and will continue to do so.

“It’s the only thing I have known in my life,” Charpentier said.

Charpentier added that DesRuisseaux planned to return to work soon. He said the captain, in great pain but safe on the ground that night, told him he was “relieved because he knew then that he wasn’t going to die in the fire.”

The Hometown Hero made sure of that.

“I was just doing my job,” Charpentier said, “and I certainly wasn’t going to watch my friend burn to death.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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