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Herbert Johnson, Chicago Firefighter, Died A Hero Battling South Side Blaze

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Chicago Fire Department
Chicago Fire Department

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.

See powerful photos from the scene

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.

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