Demetrius T. Johnson Sr.'s family awoke to find their Humber Avenue home filled with smoke.
He helped carry his fiancee's 8-year-old daughter, Treasure Brighon, who was severely burned, to the front of the house. Then, according to his fiancee, Tempest Thomas, he went back inside to find his 3-year-old son DeMetrius.
Thomas, holding their 1-year-old son, DeMeriuse, screamed at him not go back in.
"My son is in there," he told her.
Firefighters found little DeMetrius in a front room and carried him outside to where paramedics revived him. Johnson was found two minutes later in the same room but it was too late for him.
On Tuesday, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, established by industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1904, announced that Johnson would be posthumously awarded a Carnegie Medal for his heroism. His family will receive the medal as well as a monetary award. Johnson was one of 20 people to be honored for acts of heroism in 2016.
Thomas and her two younger sons survived. Treasure, who was burned over 90 percent of her body, died two months after the fire at Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati.
Here's the citation by the commission about Johnson:
"Demetrius T. Johnson, Sr., died attempting to save Demetrius T. Johnson, Jr., from burning, Buffalo, New York, February 19, 2016. Demetrius, 3, was in a bedroom of his family’s first-floor apartment when fire broke out in the kitchen. Johnson, 24, who was Demetrius’s father, was sleeping in the apartment’s living room at the time. He was wakened and carried another child in the apartment outside to safety. Realizing that Demetrius was still inside, Johnson went back into the apartment to retrieve him. Arriving firefighters found Johnson and Demetrius in the living room and removed them. Demetrius was hospitalized three days for smoke inhalation; he recovered. Johnson died of smoke inhalation."
Thomas said in an interview last year that she thinks Johnson made his way through the fire to the back of the house and found his son there. She thinks he managed to carry the boy around the worst of the fire, which was in the middle of the apartment, to the front of the house, where he collapsed by the couch.
"Daddy is a superhero," she said she tells her children.
Among the other medal recipients were Robin Ireland of Plymouth, Mass., who rescued a woman who was being attacked on a wooded trail in a park, Jason Allen Williams of Orange City, Fla., a truck driver who pulled a man from a burning car, and Courtney Baynes Dorsey, a 16-year-old from Georgetown, S.C., who died trying to save his brother from drowning off Pawleys Island.