Capt. Johnson remembered as dedicated firefighter

November 3, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Captain Herbert Johnson died Friday night after battling on house fire in the Gage Park neighborhood.

Work did not stop Saturday night for the firefighters of Engine 123 Tower Ladder 39, even as they continue to mourn the loss of their colleague and friend, Capt. Herbie Johnson.

"Herbie was larger than life," said Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas. "Herbie was a true leader and a fireman's fireman."

At Johnson's Morgan Park home, a steady stream of family and friends came to pay their respects. Known for the large number of first responders who live here, trees along Johnson's neighborhood were wrapped with the traditional purple and black bunting.

"You all know someone who is a firefighter or a policeman, and it doesn't matter if you don't know them personally you come out and you talk to them and you're there for the family," said neighbor Laura Schmidt.

That sense of loss was echoed during services at St. Catejan's Catholic Church, where the Johnson family are parishioners.

"Every time he ran into me he would sing Hallelujah as loud as he could he can," said Father Frank Kurucz. "He was always that type of person who would have that smile on his face, where even if he was telling you to go jump in the Lake it would be in such a way that you'd enjoy the swim."

The 33-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, who was only recently promoted to Captain, died Friday after investigators say he was hit by a flash of flame during a house fire.

Saturday morning, a large procession accompanied his body from the medical examiner's office to a south side funeral home.

His brother-in-law spoke for the clearly devastated family.

"He was always a hero to us," said Dan McMahon. "And now he is a hero for our city. Herbie never wanted glory or notoriety. Instead what he wanted was to make Chicago a safer place for everyone who lives here."

There was a second firefighter from Engine 123 who was injured in that blaze. He was briefly hospitalized, but is home resting.

As for the cause of the fire, it appears that a water heater in the attic may have been the source, but a final determination has not yet been made.

Arrangements have been set for Captain Johnson. Visitation is Wednesday from 3 to 9 p.m. at St. Rita High School at 7740 South Western Avenue in Chicago.

The funeral mass will be at the same location on Thursday at 11a.m.

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