An elderly Missouri man tragically died in a house fire after he refused to leave without his wife.

Dispatchers urged Kenneth Zerr to abandon his New Melle home as it quickly became engulfed by flames, but he chose to stay inside and search for his wife Phyllis instead, their son told KSDK.

“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 choked back tears as he spoke.

New Melle Fire Chief Dan Casey told CBS that Phyllis had fallen from her wheelchair onto the floor of their master bedroom. Kenneth tried to help her up, but when he couldn’t,

he stuffed towels under the door in an attempt to keep out the smoke.

The New Melle Fire Department said that when fire officials arrived at the Tall Cedar Court home to rescue the 84-year-old couple, they had made it into the back bedroom but were unable to reach the couple because of how quickly the flames were growing.

As the floor started caving in and conditions became worse, firefighters had to leave the building, officials explained. They began rescue efforts once more, facing intense heat and complete darkness, finally managing to reach the Zerrs; but by that time it was too late.

The man and woman were found dead in the bathroom.

“It’s a tragedy, kind of a tragic love story,” Casey stated. “He could have definitely gotten out. The family knows he could have gotten out, but he was going to stay with her.”

The couple, Kenneth and Jane Smith, have three children and several grandchildren. They celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary in September; Kenneth celebrates his 84th birthday just two days before the deadly fire.

“Everybody wanted to be like them and everybody wanted to be with them,” Andy said. “My mom and dad were salt of the earth. They will be dearly missed. They were a pillar of the community. They were our rocks. They were our foundation. They were our wisdom.”

Although the fire’s origin is still unknown, officials think it was started by a basement appliance.