Updated 11/07/12 – 9:27 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Visitation was held Tuesday afternoon for the Chicago firefighter everyone called “Herbie,” a larger-than-life figure who inspired family and colleagues alike.
Capt. Herbert “Herbie” Johnson died Friday night, after he suffered severe burns while fighting a fire in the Gage Park neighborhood.
CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports the 32-year veteran firefighter’s extraordinary life was celebrated Wednesday afternoon at a visitation at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel.
A pair of ladder trucks lofted an American flag over the entrance to the chapel at St. Rita, forming an archway of honor leading to the visitation being held inside.
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More than 1,000 firefighters from all over the Chicago area gathered at the visitation to honor one of their own.
Hundreds of other mourners lined up for two blocks outside the chapel, while hundreds more were inside to celebrate Johnson’s life.
Jessica Flores, whose father is a Chicago firefighter, said she understands the risks they take, but she still worries every day.
“Oh yeah, we worry. Yes, I worry, my family worries, but all we can do is pray,” she said.
On Wednesday, Johnson’s two brothers – one a Chicago firefighter, the other a Chicago police officer – said Herbie never shrank from the dangers of the job.
“That’s a risk we put in every day. We go into work, we tell our families we love them, we never know if we’re coming home that day – police, fire – and unfortunately my brother said goodbye to my sister-in-law and his kids, and didn’t come home that night,” said Herbie’s brother and fellow firefighter, Ted Johnson. “So, tomorrow we’ll bring him home right to his grave, and with all the support here we got. It’s a great sendoff for a true hero.”
“I think my brother at true hero; by saving lives the other day, is exactly what he would have wanted to do,” said Herbie’s brother, Chicago Police Officer John Johnson.
Johnson volunteered in 2001 to aid in rescue efforts at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2007, he received the state’s highest bravery award for firefighters, after rescuing children from a South Side building.
But he never talked about such things.
“Firefighters don’t want to be patted on the back,” Deputy Fire Commissioner Leslie Noy said. “They don’t want anything. It’s a calling, and guys do what they have to do to help our brothers in other departments.”
The Johnson family thanked the city of Chicago for the tremendous outpouring of support they’ve received from the mayor, the governor, fellow firefighters, and average citizens.
A funeral mass for Johnson will be held at St. Rita at 11 a.m. Thursday, followed by burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood. About 4,000 firefighters are expected to attend.