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Rockford’s oldest firefighter passes away, daughter shares memories

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford’s oldest firefighter passed away over the weekend and the community is coming together to honor the hero. 

His daughter and long time friend say he spent his life serving the community. 

“That was his goal in life, after everything else he wanted to make 100, and he did,” said Harriet Retzke, daughter.

Harriet Retzke remembers her father Max Kirschbaum. He became a Rockford firefighter back in 1948, serving on the rescue squad at Fire Station 3.

“Max was always fun working with that’s for sure,” said Robert Rehfeldt, friend and colleague. 

“And that squad made every call in Rockford at that time because Rockford was a lot smaller,” Retzke said.

One of Max’s biggest feats was saving a little boy who fell 75 feet down a well and being honored by the paper.

“All the recognition that he is getting now makes me feel good because like I said Max was a good man,” Rehfeldt said. “He was a good dedicated firefighter and I think he deserves every bit of it. ​​I’ve known him for all these years and I do, I really am going to miss him greatly.”

Once Max retired from the fire department, he stopped back in to visit with friends. He even went to the open house in 2015 for the new Fire Station 3.

“He was actually at one of the oldest Fire Station 3’s and he came along and attended the open house, so I got to spend time with him there,” said Derek Bergsten, Rockford Fire Chief. 

Max also founded a business where he helped companies like Dial Machine and Rockford Tool Craft grow to what they are today. 

Max is survived by his two daughters and one son. He also got to meet his seven great grand children who grew up hearing stories about Max playing chess in the fire house. 

“He always, almost always beat me and the few times that I did win,” Rehfeldt said. “I think he let me win just so that I could say that I beat him.”

“You know very very honest great person and I know we all think that of our parents, but you could just about talk to anybody and they could never say anything bad about him,” Retzke said. 

A wake and funeral for Max Kirschbaum are open to the public.

If you’d like to pay your respects, you can find the information on the Fitzgerald Funeral Home’s website.

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