“You don’t need a last name for Herbie. Everybody knew Herbie”; Chicago Fire Capt. Herbie Johnson

Chicago firefighter Herbert Johnson, left, poses with Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, right, after Johnson was promoted to the rank of captain. Johnson died from injuries sustained while fighting a house fire on the South Side. — Chicago Fire Department

 “You don’t need a last name for Herbie. Everybody knew Herbie”.   A beloved firefighter, Fire officer, father and husband died in the line of duty on Friday November 2, in the City of Chicago protecting the citizens of his city working with the companies assigned to the structure fire alarm.

Chicago Captain Herbert Johnson, 54, suffered second- and third-degree burns during fire suppression operations being conducted in the attic of the residential house at 2315 West 50th Place, according to Chicago FD officials and published media reports. The 32-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department died Friday night after he and another firefighter were injured in a blaze that spread quickly through the 2-1/2 story wood frame house. A second firefighter, FF Brian Woods was also injured and was reported in good condition at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, according to a department spokeswoman, and was subsequently released. Chicago fire investigators are considering the possibility that a malfunctioning water heater sparked the fire that killed Capt. Herbert Johnson, a Fire Department spokesman said Saturday.

  • See CommandSafety.com for a complete accounting of the event, HERE
  • Family of fallen firefighter: ‘A hero for our city’ from the Chicago Tribune, HERE

Captain Johnson, was promoted from lieutenant this summer and was assigned to Engine Co. 123 in Back of the Yards Section of Chicago for the night tour but normally worked all around the City of Chicago.

Capt. Johnson from a 2006 Sun-Times photo

The following exerpt from the Chicago Tribune helps define the type of firefighter Capt. Johnson was:


Johnson’s influence on everyone he met was visible Saturday, with shrines at the site of his death and trees in his family’s Morgan Park neighborhood decorated with purple and black bows.

A 32-year veteran of the department, Johnson volunteered in 2001 to help with rescue efforts in New York after the 9/11 attacks. As a lieutenant in 2007, he received a Medal of Honor for outstanding bravery or heroism, the state’s highest accolade for firefighters — the result, his family said, of helping rescue children the year before from a burning building on the South Side.

Friends and family remembered him mostly for his jovial personality and tender heart, a burly man with a beaming smile who once took a sewing class so he could make a First Communion dress for his daughter.

Johnson and his sister, Julie, even went to clown school together, said their brother John Johnson, a Chicago police officer. That sister, a former police officer who is now a nurse, celebrated her birthday Friday, the day of Johnson’s death, family members said.

Their father worked for the city in the Streets and Sanitation Department, John Johnson said, and their grandfathers were Chicago police officers.

The eldest of eight children, Johnson always knew he wanted to be a firefighter, said his family members, many of whom are also in public service.

“He lived for it,” brother-in-law McMahon, said.

“He died for it,” John Johnson added.

 From the Chicago Tribune (HERE);

Just like every little boy that’s grown up in the last 20 years wanted to be Michael Jordan or Brian Urlacher, every firefighter that worked with him wanted to be Herbie,” said Tim O’Brien, a spokesman with Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2. “You aspired to be more like him in every way of life.”

Colleagues said Johnson spent the last several years working as an instructor at the Fire Academy. Generous and kind, he never missed a Fire Department fundraising event, they said. His helpful nature also extended beyond the firehouse, friends said, through coaching youth sports and volunteering at his church parish.

He always had a funny story and often left fellow firefighters in stitches, sometimes through his own distinctive belly laugh, colleagues said.

From The Chicago Sun-Times (HERE):

“He was always a hero to us and now he’s a hero for our city,” McMahon said. “Herbie never wanted glory or notoriety. 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 was an easy man to know and love, said friend Tom Taff, who runs a camp for burn victims that Johnson helped support. The recently promoted captain personified joie de vivre, a man with a big laugh who drove fire engines in parades, cooked for charity ­— left an impression in the many places he offered his service.


Readings and Learnings

Additional Coverage and Links

  • From Chicago WGNTV, HERE
  • From the Chicago Tribune, HERE and HERE
  • From the Chicago Sun Times, HERE
  • Photo Gallery from the Sun-Times, HERE
  • Photo Gallery from the Chicago Tribune, HERE
  • Aerial Fireground Operations, Chicago ABC 7 News, HERE
  • Google Maps; StreetView Images, HERE
  • Chicago CBS, HERE
  • 2007 Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial and Firefighting Medal of Honor Ceremony, HERE
  • Remembering Capt. Herbie Johnson: “To Know Him, Was to Love Him” HERE



Photo Credit: Tim Olk

VISITATION: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at St. Rita High School, 7740 S. Western from 3-9 PM.
FUNERAL MASS: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at St. Rita High School at 11:00 AM




Family, friends gather to mourn fallen firefighter Herbert Johnson, Chicago Sun-Times Additional Video HERE


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