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From left are Hero and Fremont Police Officer Derek Franek, Governor Maggie Hassan, Joe Carelli president of Citizens Bank, New Hampshire & Vermont and Fremont Police Chief and Hero Jon Twiss during annual Union Leader Hero Awards at the State House in Concord on Wednesday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Heroes didn't hesitate to help


CONCORD — Luanna Vollmer didn’t plan to be a hero.

But her preparations for practically any problem that could arise while living by the Merrimack River enabled her to save the life of a man whose kayak had overturned.

Vollmer, a real estate agent who lives in Litchfield and works out of her home, was one of nine people recognized at the Union Leader Hero Awards ceremony Wednesday at the State House.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said the award recipients, including Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell, who was shot to death when he responded to a domestic dispute May 12, 2014, had responded “without hesitating” when help was needed.

“You recognized that every single life matters,” she said, “and acted on it at great risk to yourselves.”

New Hampshire Union Leader Executive Editor Trent Spiner said while some of the honorees were put in a heroic situation by their professions, all “exemplify the spirit inside every Granite Stater we hope will come out when the time calls.”

Vollmer took a canoe out onto the Merrimack River in April 2014, after her children, Kailey, now 11, and William, now 13, alerted her to the kayaker’s plight.

After calling 911, she stationed her children where they could direct first responders upon their arrival and took her canoe out on the fast-moving river. “I think it’s important to think ahead,” she said, so she was able to immediately grab everything she needed, including a rope to tow the man to shore.

“You can’t have someone climb into a canoe,” she said. But the man was so cold he could barely hold onto the rope as she towed him to shore.

First responders tossed him a vest and he was able to put it on and be pulled up what was an almost 10-foot embankment.

Meanwhile, Vollmer paddled back up river to her home.

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Two Rymes Propane & Oil employees who saw flames from a crashed car on Interstate 89 in Warner rushed to the scene to help on Nov. 26, 2014.

Scott Jackitis of Bradford and Josh McKerley of Deering pulled the driver from his burning vehicle before it exploded. The man did not survive, but Jackitis and McKerley said they couldn’t have left him in the burning car, which later exploded in flames.

“I guess we both thought we were doing what we’d hope someone would do for us,” said Jackitis.

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Fremont police officer Derek Franek and Chief Jon Twiss were honored for their actions May 12, 2014, when they responded to the Brentwood scene where Arkell was killed.

As Arkell’s backup, Franek entered the residence shortly after Arkell had been shot by Michael Nolan. Despite continuing gunfire, Franek was able to escape and notify dispatch.

Twiss arrived, established contact with Franek and determined Arkell was dead, sparing the loss of additional lives in attempts to rescue Arkell. The shooter died in the explosion that resulted from fires he set after he fired as many as 100 rounds.

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Derry firefighter James Hoffman, 31, crawled out on the fragile ice of Hood Pond last November to rescue two 12-year-olds who had been trying to play hockey and broke through the ice.

After Wednesday’s ceremony, Hoffman who has received a number of awards for his actions, said the rescue wouldn’t have been possible without a team effort by those who pulled him and the boys to shore.

Holding his 16-month-old daughter, Emily, with his wife, Amy, at his side, Hoffman seemed uncomfortable in the dress uniform required for award ceremonies. He would rather be in his work clothes, he said, doing his job.

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The others honored with Hero Awards are:

• Candia Police Chief Mike McGillen, for entering a burning home to save a man and his wife;

• Paul Carter Jr., 7, of Hudson, who led his grandmother from their mobile home, through heavy heat and smoke.

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

dvincent@unionleader.com

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