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He was Fire Department’s ‘Mr. Fix-It’

Chicago firefighter Michael F. Boyd lost his battle with cancer Saturday. / phoprovided

Chicago firefighter Michael F. Boyd lost his battle with cancer on Saturday. / photo provided

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:18AM

A Chicago Fire Department stunned by the line-of-duty deaths of two members in 10 days got more bad news when a popular North Side firefighter, known to friends as a “Mr. Fix-It,” lost his battle with cancer.

“He was like MacGyver; he could fix anything,” Special Operations Battalion Chief James Purl said of his friend, Michael F. Boyd, who passed away Saturday at his home in Wrigleyville.

“He was a very intelligent person. If something went wrong, it would be like, ‘Hey, Mike, help me out?’ And he would go on the computer and research it and fix it. It was amazing how much he made our lives easier.”

Mr. Boyd, 49, was a 17-year veteran of the department who worked out of Truck 28 in the 1900 block of North Damen.

He had been on medical leave, in and out of hospitals, for about a year, battling a rare form of cancer of the peritoneum, according to Chicago Police Marine Unit Officer Dave Johnsen, who grew up with Boyd in the Portage Park neighborhood.

Johnsen agreed with the MacGyver assessment.

“Mike was the proverbial jack-of-all-trades. He could fix anything. He was restoring a classic Chris-Craft boat [which he owned with Purl], and Mike and I had a sailboat. The only time he was happy sailing was when something broke and he could fix it,” Johnsen said.

The handyman mentality also benefitted the department, Johnsen said.

“I work on the Marine Unit, and for a time he worked on the Fire Department’s air and sea rescue division, so we would see each other at work. He even helped reconfigure the truck for the air sea unit. They gave them an old truck, and he fixed it up to make it more efficient and workable.”

That spirit also prompted Mr. Boyd to go to New York in the days following 9/11, Purl said.

“We went to 9/11 together with two others from that firehouse for four days. We did a little bit of everything: searched for remains or victims; cut I-beams with torches; worked on the bucket brigade digging out. We did whatever we could do.”

Being a firefighter was a “perfect fit for him,” according to Johnsen, who attended kindergarten with Boyd at St. Bartholomew’s, then grammar and high school at St. Patrick’s.

“His uncle [Charlie Boyd] and dad [the late Francis M. Boyd] were firefighters. Out of high school he went to work with American Airlines at O’Hare, then he took the fire test and got on there.

“He was a great fireman. Everything about the job was him,” Johnsen said. “Helping, rescuing, fixing, getting things fixed . . . He was always in great spirits, even when sick. A guy called for the number of someone to come fix an air conditioner, and he said like, ‘It’s a five-minute job,’ and he went over and fixed it.”

Purl was just as emphatic in his praise.

“He was always there, the kind of person you want on your side,” he said. “He rescued several people, including a battalion chief, and was a truly heroic fireman.

“When he was sick and not doing anything, he stayed in touch with the other firefighters. It was a close-knit group at the firehouse, like a second family. He even ran the Christmas party at the firehouse the last four years, though he was unable to this year being sick.”

One member of the family, firefighter Neil Pantelis, called Mr. Boyd an “innovative” person who was both “super-intelligent” and brave.

He recalled a man whose life was saved by Mr. Boyd.

“We went to this high-rise fire downtown in which a woman died, but Mike and I saved a guy in the next unit over. We are at the front of the building and a guy comes up and said his friend was trapped up there and did not know what to do.

“Mike told him get in a room, close the door and put a towel in the crack at the bottom of the door to buy time. . . . When we got to the fire floor and found that apartment, we went to the first door and it was closed and I pushed it open and could feel the towel underneath.

“It was dark but the guy was at the window, probably on his last breath. That guy lives overseas now, but he still emails me to this day.”

Bob Chapelle, the former resident, said: “I’m alive because of Mike Boyd and his team.”

Chapelleho was rescued from the Gold Coast high-rise blaze in December 2009.

“It was so intense that firefighters were told not to come to my part of the floor and they did anyway,” he recalled.

“I was unconscious and they carried me out.”

Chapelle, 50, now lives in Singapore. But every year on the anniversary of the blaze, he sends a fruit basket to their firehouse, and donates to burn victim and firefighter charities in honor of the men who saved his life.

“These guys were just incredible and boy, did he serve the people of Chicago. I’m eternally grateful for what he did for me,” he said.

Mr. Boyd and his wife, Tanya, recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, Johnsen said.

“They met her freshman year at U. of I.,” he said. “He had gone down with some guys for the weekend, and she was roommates with a friend of ours. It was love at first sight. They just celebrated their 25th in a hospital.”

Mr. Boyd is also survived by his mother, Kay Boyd.

“He will be with me the rest of my life,” Purl said. “He was a great guy, a special person.”

Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Gibbons Funeral Home, 5917 W. Irving Park. Services will be 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Bart’s, 4949 W. Patterson, with burial to follow at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside.

LeeAnn Shelton

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