Retired Elgin fire chief Bill Freiberg loses battle with COVID-19: 'People loved being around him'

ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- A retired deputy fire chief from Elgin who lost his battle with COVID-19 is being remembered as a hero on the frontlines.

It's safe to say fireman Bill Freiberg loved his job. The 74-year-old deputy chief of the Elgin fire department retired years ago, but never really left the job.

RELATED: Illinois COVID-19 death toll surpasses 14,000

"Both of us loved what we did. We both loved being firefighters," retired Elgin firefighter Larry Judkins said. "Bill and I always loved what we did. I told everyone that I had every little boy's dream job. I drove a fire engine for 30 years and they paid me for it. Bill took it farther - he said every rock star, football player, every athlete, when a fire engine went by, they thought that is what I want to be when I grow up."

He was also a family man whose grandkids called him Grum-Grum and was always there when you needed him.

"People loved being around him," his daughter Amy Ossola said. "He wanted them to be comfortable and safe."

In November, Bill was diagnosed with COVID-19. He died days later.

CHICAGOLAND VACCINE GUIDE: See COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans for your area

"He told me he was starting to feel sick about a week before Thanksgiving," said John Freiberg, his son.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions. family and friends did not get to say their goodbyes.

"I would tell him, 'I really love you, man,'" Judkins said, breaking down in tears. "That is what I would tell him."

Passionate about fire safety, Freiberg inspired his son to follow in his footsteps. He's now a lieutenant at the South Elgin Fire District.

"Thirty years later now and I could walk into Station 2 in Elgin and it smells the same way it did when I was a kid," Freiberg said. "You can smell the rigs, the gear, there are aspects that do not go away."

A man who saved so many lives lost his own. His family is asking people to take the virus seriously.

"Your mask is not for you," his daughter said. "It is for the people that you love, the people around you and for the greater good."

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there won't be a large service. Bill's family hopes to have one at a later date.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.