Retired Elgin Deputy Fire Chief Bill Freiberg dies from complications of COVID-19
Retired Elgin Deputy Fire Chief Bill Freiberg died Tuesday at Sherman Hospital from complications of COVID-19, according to Elgin Fire Chief Robb Cagann.
He was 74.
Freiberg retired in 2003 after 27 years with the Elgin Fire Department. Longtime friend and fellow retired firefighter Larry Judkins said they'd been pals for 55 years, since back when they both worked at Eagle Foods on Liberty Street in Elgin, with Judkins working in produce and Freiberg in housewares.
In the late 1960s the friends wanted to join the Elgin Fire Department. They both took the test and Judkins joined the department on April 21, 1969. But Freiburg had a problem.
"Back then there was a height and weight requirement, and Bill was way too light," coming in about 25 pounds under the required 155 pounds, Judkins said.
Seven years later the dream hadn't diminished, and with enough pounds added on, Freiberg joined the department on Jan. 5, 1976.
"Both of us loved being firefighters," Judkins said. "Bill said every rock star, movie star, professional athlete, when they were a little boy and saw a fire engine go by, said to themselves, 'That's what I want to be when I grow up.'"
"And we got to do it," Freiberg would say.
After leaving the department, the two friends later joined the Elgin Retired Firefighters Association, where Judkins has served as president and Freiberg as vice president since 2013.
Judkins said Freiberg was in pretty good health before the virus. He said Freiberg had told him early last week he had tested positive and was quarantining. Judkins said Freiberg's son John determined on Friday that Freiberg needed to go to Sherman Hospital in Elgin.
"And that was the last his son ever saw of him," Judkins said. "It was just so awful. You're surrounded by strangers and you die." Judkins said Freiberg was never put on a ventilator. "I thought he was going to get better and come home."
"It's just so awful," he said again.
Cagann said he never worked directly for Freiberg, but their time at the fire department overlapped by 11 years. "He was always a number of ranks ahead of me," Cagann said. "He had a passion for the fire service, and since his retirement he's stayed actively involved in the community he served for so long."
Freiberg's wife Kathleen died in 2013. He is survived by his son John and daughter Amy. No funeral arrangements had been announced as of Wednesday afternoon.