Known affectionately as "Herbie," Chicago Fire Department Capt. Herbert Johnson died after saving several families--including many with small children--from a burning South Side home on Friday.
Saturday, the Cook County medical examiner said Johnson died of inhalation injuries and ruled the 54-year-old captain's death an accident, reports the Associated Press.
Family, friends and fellow firefighters of the more than 30-year CPD veteran were devastated by the news of Johnson's death. The Sun-Times reported the heartbreaking scene outside the medical examiner's office where Johnson’s "grief-stricken" wife, Sue, wept with their three children as Johnson's brother-in-law Dan McMahon spoke on the family's behalf.
McMahon called the fallen firefighter a "hero for our city" writes the AP.
"Herbie never wanted glory or notoriety," said McMahon. "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."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called Johnson a "larger than life person," writes the AP.
In 2007, Johnson received the state's Medal of Honor for bravery, according to WBEZ. The medal is the highest honor given by Illinois to a firefighter.
"We lost a piece of our heart and our soul today," said Tom Ryan, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2, the Chicago fire union, according to WBEZ.
According to the Sun-Times, Johnson did more than save lives through his job: he supported a camp that helped burn victims, cooked for charity and drove fire engines in parades for the department.
Friday, Johnson was the first one in at a reported attic blaze in a home in the Gage Park neighborhood, according to the Sun-Times. Johnson suffered second- and third-degree burns, reports WBEZ, and officials said it's possible he was hit by a flashover of flames.
Temperatures in the burning house may have been "well over 1,000 degrees" said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford according to the Tribune, though more details are forthcoming as the investigation into the fire's cause continue.
The Burnt District in Chicago, 3rd Edition
The fire burned a 3 and 1/3 square mile swath through the center of the city, destroying some 12,000 buildings and leaving 90,000 citizens homeless. R. P. Studley Company, 1871. (ICHi-02870)
The Great Fire in Chicago the Race for Life over Randolph Street Bridge
Kellogg & Bulkeley. Lithograph, c. 1872. (ICHi-63131)
The Fire Escape
Fires were common to all cites, but fireproof structures were still relatively rare. The dominance of wooden buildings in Chicago provided ready fuel for the fire. Even so-called fireproof constructions succumbed to the intense heat, as brick and stone were pulverized into dust and iron columns melted into pools of molten metal. Kellogg & Bulkeley. Lithograph, c. 1871. (ICHi-02963)
The Cause of the Great Chicago Fire
Mrs. Catherine O’Leary and her cow became scapegoats for the disaster, but were formally absolved by the city of Chicago in 1997. Kellogg & Buckeley, Lithograph, c. 1872 (ICHi- 34703)
Chicago in Flames
Union Publishing Company, Lithograph, c.1872. (ICHi-64423)
Rescue of Ladies from the Flames
Frank Luzerne, The Lost City! c.1872. (ICHi-63830)
Release All Prisoners
Shortly after midnight on October 9, 1871, Chicago’s courthouse caught fire. In a basement jail cell, dozens of prisoners remained behind bars until Mayor Roswell Mason issued this order: “Release all prisoners from jail at once, keeping them in custody if possible.” (ICHi-64440)
Relief for the Sufferers of Chicago
This painting, created one year after the fire, represented a vision of the ruins in the minds of the sympathetic French and offered a gesture of comfort from abroad. Jules Emile Saintin. Oil on canvas, 1872. (ICHi-64555)
To the Homeless
Broadside, October 16, 1871. (ICHi-06194)
Homeless Citizens Taking Refuge
“The Great Fire in Chicago—Homeless Citizens Taking Refuge from the Flames among the Ruins" Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, October 28, 1871. (ICHi-02889)
Badge Used By Special Police
With the specter of that March’s working-class uprising in Paris fresh in their minds, city officials feared looting and riots in the chaotic aftermath of the fire. Federal troops and special police were called in to augment the regular police and ensure order amidst the smoldering ruins. (ICHi-63846)
State and Madison
Corner of State and Madison after the Fire. Photograph, 1871. (ICHi-0281)
Chicago Historical Society Building
Ruins of the Chicago Historical Society Building.” Photograph, 1871. The fire destroyed the Historical Society’s collection, including Abraham Lincoln’s handwritten draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. All that was salvaged from the ruins was a half-burnt hymnal. (ICHi-02770)
Saving the Goat
A young man named Justin Butterfield writes to his ‘chum.’ “We tried to get a wagon but could not so we put two trunks on a wheelbarrow and each of us shouldered a bundle and we marched for the old skating park.” The “old skating park” is probably Lincoln Park, where many people sought refuge from the flames. October 19, 1871. (ICHi-63792)
Chicago, October 10, 1871
Engraving from "Every Saturday," November 4, 1871, based on a drawing by Alfred Fredericks. (ICHi-63771)
Image for poster commemorating the 50th anniversary of the fire, 1921. Chicago rebuilt quickly after the fire, and by 1874 scarcely a trace of the fire’s devastation remained. ( ICHi-64432)