Investigators looking into a fire that claimed the life of a veteran firefighter have narrowed their search for a cause of the blaze.
“A water heater in the attic is of interest as the source,” said Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford on Saturday. “But the final determination is suspended until the unit can be analyzed by engineers. The report as of now states ‘undetermined suspended.’”
On Friday, Fire Dept. Capt. Herbert "Herbie" Johnson and others were called to a house fire in the 2300 block of West 50th Place. The fire caused the roof of the wood-framed structure to collapse, drawing a mayday alert from fire crews. Johnson was pulled from the wreckage and transported to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he later died.
An autopsy on Saturday determined Johnson's death was an accident due to smoke inhalation.
Outside the medical examiner's office, Johnson's brother-in-law, Dan McMahon, called the firefighter a "hero for our city" who died doing what he loved.
"Herbie never wanted glory or notoriety," said McMahon, who was surrounded by Johnson's wife and children. "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 54-years old and had just been promoted to captain, according to Deputy Fire Commissioner of Operations John McNicholas. He had been with the fire department for 33 years.
"We know the hazards of our job, we just don't know sometimes when it's going to hurt us," said McNicholas on Saturday outside the firehouse where bunting was hung to celebrate Johnson's life.
On Saturday morning, a roll call was held at the firehouse where Johnson had recently been promoted to captain. During the roll call, there was a bell ringing ceremony and moment of silent to honor Johnson,.
"Herbie was the type of person that you would want to be your leader because he was a strong leader and he was a fireman's fireman," said McNicholas.
Johnson's funeral is scheduled for Thursday at St. Rita High School on Chicago's South Side. Visitation will be Wednesday at Curly Funeral Home in Chicago Ridge, according to the Chicago fire union.