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Firefighter suffers fatal heart attack after returning from fire

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:16AM

Walter Patmon Jr. wore his finely pressed blue uniform Friday when he attended the funeral of fellow firefighter Herbie Johnson.

“He came back all dressed up and I told him how handsome he looked,” his wife, Diane Patmon, said Monday.

Two days after mourning Johnson’s death, firefighters were again mourning, this time for Mr. Patmon, an 18-year veteran who suffered a fatal heart attack at his Beverly firehouse late Sunday after returning from a small kitchen fire — a salmon fillet left in the broiler too long. He was 61.

Despite visiting her husband’s body at the morgue, his death hadn’t fully sunk in Monday afternoon.

“Even though I saw him laying there, it felt like a dream. Today, it felt like he would be home, like he usually comes home,” she said.

Mr. Patmon, who had no known health issues, began experiencing shortness of breath while cleaning his equipment and was rushed to Little Company of Mary Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:21 p.m.

“It’s in God’s hands,” his wife said.

Becoming a firefighter was Mr. Patmon’s childhood dream, which — after years spent driving a truck and working as a clerk in a hospital mailroom — came true at age 43.

“He wanted to help people,” his wife said. “And being a firefighter is where he thought he could help people the most.”

Friends say he lightened the mood wherever he went.

“He always had a smile on his face, and he always wanted to cheer everybody up,” said Lt. Lewis Richardson.

The last day of Mr. Patmon’s life was no different.

His final job as a firefighter found him banging on the door of a third-floor apartment in the 1500 block of 99th Street that was filling with smoke as a cut of salmon burned in the broiler.

The tenant, Kevin Hornsby, 38, a public relations coordinator with the Chicago Board Options Exchange, had taken sinus medication and fallen asleep. After tending to the charred fish and clearing the smoke, Mr. Patmon gave him “the biggest grin” on his way out of the building, Hornsby said.

“He knew I was embarrassed,” Hornsby said. “It was a reassuring smile, telling me not to be embarrassed.”

Two main things his colleagues at Engine Co. 121, in the 1700 block of West 95th, knew about Mr. Patmon: He was extremely proud of his three daughters — ages 21, 26 and 29 — and he cooked a mean barbecue.

Fellow firefighters called him “Bubble” (a childhood nickname tied to a portly frame that stuck) and raved about his “Bub Rub” barbecue spice mix.

He would occasionally borrow recipes from chef Paula Deen after watching her TV show.

“He always had something good cooking when I came home,” Diane Patmon said.

The couple married in 1979 after meeting at Michael Reese Hospital, where they both worked.

“He had very good manners, and I appreciated that because that’s how I was raised,” she said.

Friends carrying hot meals came and went Monday afternoon at Mr. Patmon’s bungalow-style home in the 600 block of East 88th Place.

Among them was Beddar Clay, the wife of a Chicago fire lieutenant.

Clay said she had met Mr. Patmon only twice, but she came to the Patmon residence Monday to tell Diane Patmon she isn’t alone.

“I’m happy to be here, to be support — from one wife to another,” Clay said.

Clay said the recent loss of two firefighters has left her on edge.

“I’m always concerned,” Clay said. “We always pray. He prays on the way to work, and the children and I pray when I’m taking them to school that the Lord will protect him and keep him safe; that’s all we can do.”

Contributing: Casey Toner

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