CFD Captain Herbie Johnson remembered

November 7, 2012 (CHICAGO)

They came by the hundreds. The line wrapped around the block to honor a fallen hero and offer solace to a family in grief.

"Tomorrow I'm going to have to carry my brother's body to his grave," said Johnson's brother, Ted. "But I'm going to have over 4,000 right there with me."

Captain Johnson died last Friday after suffering third-degree burns while fighting a house fire in the Gage Park neighborhood. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

"There's a whole in the hearts of the people of Illinois for losing such a special man who gave back to the community far more than he took," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

"It's been said many times: change your smoke detectors and keep everybody safe," said John Johnson. "Because I think my brother a true hero by saving lives the other day is exactly what he would have wanted to do."

For members of the Chicago Fire Department, the last five days have been heart-wrenching.

"Guys like Herbie, and all the rest of these people behind me, they're outstanding, my heroes," said State Fire Marshall Larry Matkaitis.

"As you can see by the outpouring of emotion and the size of the crowd, we have people from all over the country coming to pay respects to a very great man," said Tom Ryan, President Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

Friends say the 54-year-old Johnson's heart was even bigger than his smile.

"He always liked to sing the Hallelujah to me as loud as he can in one of those church voices. And he always brought a great smile to everyone who met him," said Father Frank Kurucz, St. Cajetan Church. In addition to his extended fire department family, he is survived by his three kids and wife, Susan.

"For all her friends and family who have been praying, people around the city, she feels it. Her children feel it," said family spokesperson Dan McMahon.

He will be laid to rest Thursday and as many as 4,000 people are expected to attend.

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