Chicago firefighter dies after battling South Side blaze

November 4, 2012

The Associated Press

Chicago fire officials are investigating a blaze that killed a firefighter who had been with the department for more than 30 years.

Capt. Herbert Johnson, 54, died late Friday at the University of Chicago emergency room after battling a house fire on Chicago's South Side.

The father of three suffered second- and third-degree burns and officials said it's possible he was hit by a flashover of flames. Paramedics performed CPR as they carried him out of the home, fire officials said.

Memorials for Capt. Herbert Johnson were erected outside the damaged home that he was trying to keep from burning when he suffered inhalation injuries.

Firefighters stood and saluted as an ambulance carrying Johnson's body was escorted by police and fire vehicles to the Cook County medical examiner's office. The medical examiner on Saturday ruled Johnson's death an accident due to inhalation injuries.

Outside the medical examiner's office, Johnson's brother-in-law, Dan McMahon, called thefirefighter a "hero for our city" who died doing what he loved.

"Herbie never wanted glory or notoriety," said McMahon, who was surrounded by Johnson's wife and children. "Instead, all he wanted was to make Chicago a safer place for other members of the city. So please, in Herbie's honor, check your smoke detectors right now, give your kids a hug."

Johnson had a daughter and two sons. One of the sons is a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel described Johnson as "larger than life" and someone who "touched everybody that ran into contact with him."

Johnson's death is the first for the Chicago Fire Department since two firefighters died in a building collapse in 2010. A second firefighter was injured Friday but in good condition at a suburban hospital.

Johnson received the state's Medal of Honor in 2007 for bravery, the highest honor given by Illinois to a firefighter.

Tom Ryan, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2, the Chicago fire union, said Johnson was a shining example of public service.

"We lost a piece of our heart and our soul today," Ryan said.

Johnson's funeral was planned for Thursday at St. Rita High School on Chicago's South Side. Visitation will be Wednesday at Curly Funeral Home in Chicago Ridge, the union said.