Firefighter who helped inspire 'Backdraft' movie remembered
Raymond Hoff was a 32-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department
By Frank Main
The Chicago Sun-Times
CHICAGO — Raymond Hoff was a tough, daring firefighter — the kind you see in the movies.
But on their websites, fire organizations across the country also were remembering Mr. Hoff as one of the nation's best teachers in the art of battling blazes.
Mr. Hoff, 69, a retired Chicago Fire Department battalion chief, died Tuesday of unexpected medical complications.
"We'll never know how many lives he saved by the training he did," said his brother Robert Hoff, Chicago's highly decorated fire commissioner.
Mr. Hoff was a 32-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department.
After he retired in 1997, he moved to Topinabee, Mich., where he was chief of the volunteer fire department.
He also taught at the Fire Service Institute at the University of Illinois.
Mr. Hoff was a third-generation Chicago firefighter. His grandfather, Joseph Hoff, retired as a captain in 1936. His father, Thomas Hoff, was a battalion chief who was killed while fighting a blaze in a South Side apartment building in 1962.
Four years later, Mr. Hoff took the oath to become a firefighter.
"I always wanted to be a fireman and follow in my dad's footsteps," he told a reporter then.
Robert Hoff said their mother died when he was young and he lived with his older brother.
"I was 14," Robert Hoff said. "Every weekend he took me to work with him. He showed me everything."
The movie "Backdraft" was based loosely on the Hoff brothers.
Ray Hoff spent most of his career working out of the station at 46th and Cottage Grove.
Later, he was a captain on Truck Company 10, which operated out of the station at Division and Larrabee near Cabrini-Green.
He was honored by the city for crawling through smoke to rescue two children in an apartment fire a block from the fire station in May 1993.
Two months earlier — on March 16, 1993 — he was the first truck company officer to respond to the Paxton Hotel fire that killed at least 20 people and left dozens injured.
Chicago Fire Lt. Steve Dodovich was Mr. Hoff's driver when they rolled up to the burning hotel.
"It was bedlam," Dodovich said. "There were people in every window ready to jump. Ray calmly ran the show for the first 10 minutes, positioning people and getting ladders up. Everyone who was in a window got out."
Dodovich said he believes they saved at least 25 people because of Mr. Hoff's quick thinking.
Throughout his career, Mr. Hoff took young firefighters under his wing, his brother said, adding, "he had a lot of father figure in him."
After Robert Hoff became fire commissioner, his older brother often called him "2-1 Little Brother," proudly referring to the fire department's radio code for the commissioner, 2-1-3.
Mr. Hoff is survived by his wife, Barbara; a daughter, Jeannie, and seven grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by a son, Richard.
A private funeral service is scheduled Saturday in Michigan.
A wake is planned for Mr. Hoff from 9-11 a.m. March 26 at Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt, with a mass to follow.
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