Tag Archives: Kurtis-Hansen

Kurtis Hansen: Hero

One year ago, a fire up in a far-away cabin near a lake caught fire, killing five out of the six people staying there. One of the victims was Kurtis Hansen, a 26-year-old former security guard at The Gazette, whose rather nasty smoking habit had him often conversing with editorial staff late at night in the smoking room. (Last night it became clear that, for the most part, smokers had a closer relationship with him than non-smokers)

Today, the paper carries a full-page feature on the fire and its aftermath, which as written by Katherine Wilton is so dramatic as to be almost surreal. It focuses on Karl Hansen, who barely survived the fire that took the lives of the five people he brought with him to the cottage.

It also says what Kurtis was doing for the last few minutes of his life:

Kurtis Hansen raced around the one-storey cottage looking for an escape route. They quickly decided the best option was to go through a window in a bedroom.

In a desperate bid to save his family, Kurtis grabbed a small end table and hammered it against the window until it broke. But inhaling the thick black smoke was too much for him. He fell to his knees, then collapsed.

With the flames surrounding the cottage and his son lying on the ground, Hansen instinctively dove head first through the window. He rolled down the hill to extinguish the flames that were burning him.

“Kurtis is the hero in all this,” Karl Hansen recalled recently. “I couldn’t have got out the window without Kurtis breaking it. My doctors said if I breathed in that crap for another few seconds, I would have passed out.”

I don’t know if it’s the personal connection, the inherently emotional nature of the event itself, or Wilton’s writing, but a few editors (including myself) had to take a break after reading the story.

Oh Kurtis

I had an uncomfortable conversation today with a good friend. She said she had some bad news.

“Did you read the front-page story about the fire?”

I hadn’t, since I was still reading Saturday’s paper. I quickly looked it up and scanned it.

“It was Kurtis’s cottage. Kurtis died in the fire.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know Kurtis Hansen very well (I wasn’t sure until today what his last name was), but we’d hung out together many times when we worked at the Gazette. He was an evening security guard who would join the editors in the smoking room late in the evening to gossip. (I quickly learned after joining the paper that important social networking happens while people have cigarettes.) We’d discuss everything from the relative attractiveness of female staff at the paper to his women troubles.

He was our favourite security guard, because he had a very easy-going style and the kind of dry, wicked sense of humour that only copy editors can appreciate.

He left his job at the paper last year to work at Telus, which offered him more money and less boredom. I didn’t expect to see much of him again. But now the absence is permanent.

It won’t affect my life significantly, but I can’t just dismiss it.

What’s worse is the horribleness of the death itself. His two sisters are also gone, as well as two family friends. His father, who tried to drag him to safety and failed, now has to live with the loss of three children, assuming he even recovers from his injuries.

It sucks. Which is why those of us who knew him will be getting shitfaced later, in his honour.

The Gazette’s Katherine Wilton has an obit, which includes some quotes from his former boss. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

UPDATE (Sept. 5): Today’s Day 2 stories concern Kurtis’s 15-year-old stepsister who also perished, and a story about propane safety (even though no cause has been determined for the fire). The latter includes a “test yourself” quiz about propane safety, which like most government safety quizzes is insanely simple to anyone who graduated elementary school (you mean I should light the barbecue after I start the gas? Wow, thanks, because I’m a complete moron). Besides those issues, I’m not crazy about publishing a light-hearted quiz game as part of the coverage of five violent deaths.

UPDATE (Sept. 6): A Facebook group has been setup in his honour. And as he would put it: There’s some fine honeys there.

UPDATE (Sept. 9): Noah Sidel talks about Kurtis in his Off-Sidel column in the Westmount Examiner.

UPDATE (Oct. 6): The Gazette runs a belated obituary notice for Kurtis Hansen, Kelly Hansen and Heather Edelstein. It includes an online guestbook.