PORTLAND, Ore. – John Zeller put his life on the line for his family early Wednesday morning.
The volunteer with Clackamas County Search and Rescue helped seven people escape a fire at a Southeast Portland duplex. His mom, aunt, uncle, sister, nephew and two neighbors all got away safely.
Now Zeller is struggling to survive in a Portland hospital. He can’t breathe on his own and his body is badly burned.
“His lungs are really, really bad,” said Patty Wilcox, Zeller’s aunt. “He’s got, his left arm right up in here, maybe third degree (burns).”
Wilcox said Zeller noticed the fire by his office in the garage. When he realized he couldn’t control the flames, he focused on what he could control: saving seven people.
“He basically got everybody out. Woke everybody up, running around,” Wilcox said. “He was using a lot of adrenaline and inhaling a lot of smoke and at one point he just collapsed.”
Zeller didn’t stop once everyone else was safe. He backed three cars away from the burning duplex and let his own SUV burn.
It’s unclear what started the fire.
His family said the duplex is destroyed, but their focus is bringing their hero back to good health. They set up an account at Bank of America called the “John Zeller Fire Relief Contribution Fund.”
“None of them would be alive right now, so, that’s my John,” Wilcox said. “I’ll just tell him ‘I love you.’ I just love him."