A residential structure fire in Oneonta on Saturday claimed the life of a former firefighter.

John Heller, 38, was an area native and former part-time firefighter with the Oneonta Fire Department, according to Captain Brad Smith.

Heller died Saturday after evacuating his fiancée and four nephews, according to a Facebook post from his sister-in-law, Erika B. Heller.

“What began as a fun sleepover with their Uncle John and soon-to-be Aunt Amber turned into a nightmare,” she said in the Facebook post. “He died because he did everything he could to make sure that his fiancée and my sons were out of the home safely.”

Erika said her sons and John’s fiancee were “completely trapped” on the building’s top floor.

“John Heller has passed because he was saving my children and the love of his life,” she continued in the post. “He and Amber are my heroes. They saved my babies and he made the ultimate sacrifice for our family.”

At 4:22 a.m., Otsego County dispatch reported a residential structure fire at 5 Walling Ave. in the city of Oneonta.

The Oneonta Fire Department responded, Smith said, and several other agencies provided mutual aid, including fire departments from Laurens, West Oneonta and Otego; FAST teams from Worcester and Franklin; Cooperstown Medical Transport and officials from the New York state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

Smith said Oneonta police and officials from the department of public works also responded, and NYSEG shut off all utilities to the residence while firefighters battled the blaze.

The fire’s origin is still under investigation, according to officials.

The victims were transported to A.O. Fox Hospital, where one of the boys received treatment for burns on his arm, Smith said.

Friends of the Hellers established a GoFundMe for the family. Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/noah039s-world-year-pass-for-heller-boys

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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