Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago struggled to keep his composure Friday night as he reported news no one wants to hear: a firefighter had died after battling a fire.
"Tonight the Chicago Fire Department lost Capt. Herbert Johnson, age 54," he said.
Johnson and others were called to the house fire, in the 2300 block of West 50th Place, at around 5:20 p.m. 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.
Santiago said Johnson suffered second and third-degree burns.
"I think you heard in Jose's voice [that] while he may have read the facts, I think you heard really what everybody feels about Herbie," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "He touched everybody that ran into contact with him. He was a larger-than-life person and he was beyond the Chicago Fire Department."
Johnson had been with the department for 33 years. He'd recently been promoted to captain.
Emanuel said Johnson traveled to New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, calling his work there "legendary."
"When they say he's a brother from the fire department, I think it extended beyond here in Chicago to those family members that are counted in New York," the mayor said.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Susan, one daughter and two sons. One son is serving in the United States Marine Corps. The second is off to college, Santiago said.
A second firefighter was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.