Chicago gave a hero's farewell Thursday to a man whose legacy will inspire firefighters well beyond this day.
Capt. Herbert Johnson, a firefighter of 33 years who was recently promoted, was remembered during an 11 a.m. mass at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for his courage, his caring and selfless nature, and a personality that so many have described as larger than life
"This is as bad as it gets, the loss to the family and the entire community is incredible," said family friend Kathleen Moritz.
Johnson's family said he died Friday doing what he loved. The captain was fighting a house fire in the 2300 block of West 50th Place when the roof of the wood-framed structure collapsed. Johnson was pulled from the wreckage and later died in a local hospital from smoke inhalation.
"It's very tough," said Chicago Fire Department Lt. Jake Jakubec before the funeral. "We're smiling right now, but there are tears and there is hurt and everybody's feeling it."
Chicago Firefighters Union president Tom Ryan described Johnson as "a master fireman."
"He also brought something special to the table, the ability to make you laugh in some of the worst situations that you're ever gonna face," Ryan said. "He'll be missed terribly."
A line of thousands wrapped Wednesday around St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel, Johnson's alma mater, to mourn the veteran's loss as an American flag fluttered from two fire trucks outside.
"It's a risk we put in every day," Johnson's brother, Teddy Johnson, said outside the church. "We go into work, we tell our families we love them, we never know if we're coming home that day. Unfortunately my brother said goodbye to my sister-in-law and his kids and didn't come home that night."
Teddy Johnson said his brother never wanted any accolades for his work, only to make Chicago safe.
A remembrance page for Johnson has been set up on Facebook.