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Smoke couldn't keep Manchester neighbors from becoming heroes

MANCHESTER — Danielle Palmer spotted smoke across the street. Neighbor Angela Martin thought she smelled a cookout. Postal carrier Tom Sapienza was headed to his route.

All three converged at a burning house at 316 Merrimack St. on a sunny Saturday morning last May. They broke in to check on two older residents who lived there.

“By the time I got halfway up the stairs, I couldn’t breathe; I couldn’t see,” Martin recalled.

She found resident Bill Kelly, a Ward 4 alderman from 1970 to 1980, on the second floor and led him to safety.

“I grabbed him by the arm and I walked him down the stairs,” she said. “He didn’t know his house was on fire.”

Meanwhile, Sapienza, 49, of Manchester checked a back stairway and the first floor before emerging on the front porch, then went back inside when someone thought a second person might still be inside.

“I was up on the second floor just shouting,” Sapienza said. “I could hear the (fire) sirens. I shouted a couple of times. Nobody was responding. I hear firefighters coming up the front stairs yelling for me to get out and I got out.”

Palmer, 37, searched the smoky interior and then waited outside for her friend, Angela Martin.

“Panicking,” Palmer recalled. “They weren’t coming down.”

“You can’t get rid of me that easy,” Martin said.

Paramedics checked out Sapienza, telling him he had a high heart rate. But he kept working another six hours or so. Merrimack Street wasn’t even on his route.

“I went back to work,” he said. “It was really no problem.”

Everyone was too modest to accept the “hero” label.

“I think it would have been something anyone would have done,” said Martin, 38.

By chance, Sapienza met Kelly on Easter Sunday. The rescuee thanked a rescuer.

“I think it’s blown out of proportion,” Sapienza said of the attention. “I just happened to be there with other neighbors.”

A third neighbor, Ryan Masterson, also will be honored for entering the burning building on May 4, 2013.

Kelly, 75, couldn’t be reached for comment, but a relative said he was doing fine and planned to attend next week’s awards ceremony.

The Union Leader Hero Awards honor New Hampshire residents who have risked their lives in the previous year to save or attempt to save the life of another person.

The program is sponsored by Citizens Bank and presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Recipients of the 2014 Union Leader Hero Awards will be honored at a ceremony at 3 p.m. May 13 at the State House in Concord. The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is requested.

For more information on the program or ceremony, contact Community Relations Manager Shannon Sullivan at 206-7833 or

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