Demetrius Johnson, 24, found the child, put him in a closet, and then collapsed, his family told The Buffalo News. Firefighters arrived on the scene and were able to rescue the little boy, though they could not save Johnson.
"My brother died a hero. We're all proud of that," said William Johnson Jr., Demetrius's brother, according to the newspaper. "My brother woke everybody up after the fire broke out. He died doing everything he could do to rescue his family."
The fire at the Buffalo, New York, apartment building killed Johnson and another tenant and left Johnson's 8-year-old daughter with severe burns over 90 percent of her body.
Family members said that Demetrius's fiancée, Tempest Thomas, told them there were smoke detectors in the apartment, but that they did not work during the fire. "From what she told me, the smoke detectors did not go off," William Johnson said. "My brother woke up because he smelled smoke."
After rescuing his fiancée; daughter and the couple's youngest son, Demaris Johnson, 15 months; the couple realized their 3-year-old, Demetrius Jr. was still in the apartment.
"Tempest told Demetrius, 'Don't go back in there, it's too bad,' " William Johnson said, recounting what Thomas told him after the fire. "My brother said, 'I'm not going to let my son die.' "
Demetrius broke a window and then rushed back in the building that was engulfed in flames to search for his son. He collapsed soon after he put Demetrius Jr. in a closet for safety.
Firefighters rescued Demetrius Jr. but they were too late to save his father. "He was an angel," his brother said. "He pulled his family out of there, but he couldn't save himself."
Investigation of the cause of the fire and efficacy of the smoke detectors is ongoing and the second victim has not been identified. Treasure is being treated at Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati and Demaris and Demetrius Jr. were treated at Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo.
A local councilman told WIVB he's working to establish a network of people to help the affected families get back on their feet. He said he has been inundated with offers of help.
Family members told the paper this wasn't the first time Demetrius entered a burning home in a daring rescue. William Johnson said that several months ago his brother had entered a burning home to save an elderly woman.
"That house was on fire, and Demetrius went in looking for her. He searched the whole inside of the house, but then he found out she was out having lunch somewhere," William Johnson told the newspaper.
Demetrius's siblings told the newspaper that while they're heartbroken over their brother's death, he's extremely proud of his heroism.
"It doesn't surprise me that he did all that. Those were his kids, and he loved them," Tamika Johnson said. "I'm just really hurt that he's gone."