Ill. fire chief dies after 7-week battle with COVID-19
Brimfield Fire Chief Bob Forney is remembered as a selfless leader and a "true public servant" who was highly involved in his community
Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.
BRIMFIELD, Ill. — If he was awake, he was helping someone else, Bob Forney's sons said a day after the Brimfield fire chief lost his seven-week battle with the COVID-19 virus.
Forney, 58, dedicated his life to helping others and gave of himself without thought, said Jacob Forney, himself a firefighter in Kewanee.
"He wasn't just a dad, he was a mechanic, he was a carpenter, he was the maintenance guy," he said.
Added one of Bob Forney's other sons, Zachery, also a Brimfield firefighter: "He was involved in everything. He helped with 4-H. He really had his hand in everything."
It wasn't clear how Bob Forney contracted the virus a few days prior to going into the hospital. He and his wife of 36 years, Robin, were quarantining at their home for a few days before he began to have respiratory troubles.
What is clear is that when it did hit, it hit hard, said his sons Zachery and Jacob. Their dad wasn't the type to go to the hospital, so when he said he was going on Nov. 14, they knew it was serious.
And that date is seared in the mind of Zachery Forney, as it was his wedding day. Already, their outdoor wedding was wrecked due to a windstorm, so the ceremony was broadcast over the computer. Bob was able to observe and then went to UnityPoint Health Methodist.
He never left.
He went on a ventilator within a day or so, and but for a few hours, spent the next seven weeks on a ventilator. His sons said they never spoke to him again, but credited staff at Methodist for doing what they could to let the family maintain contact even without being able to visit in person. They were able to have Zoom calls with him and Bob Forney was conscious, alert, and able to understand what was going on but unable to speak.
Jacob Forney said his father had been getting better. Nurses had him in a chair and he was sitting up, so his death was "shocking."
He got the call from his mother on Tuesday, telling him to first go to the fire station in Brimfield and then to go to the hospital. Once there, a chaplain told him the sad news. He followed his mother up to his father's room and held his still-warm hand.
Bob Forney spent 25 years with the Brimfield Community Fire Protection District, the last six as the department's chief. His fellow chiefs lauded praise upon him.
Logan- Trivoli Fire Protection District Fire Chief Dave Tuttle called Forney a "great man."
"He became a chief at Brimfield Fire at a time they needed a leader, and Bob provided the leadership. He was friendly and personable. ... He will be sorely missed," he said.
Another fire chief, Bob Tannock of Elmwood, echoed Tuttle's statements.
"At first, he didn't really want the position, but he took it because the department needed someone to fill that position," Tannock said. "He left that department way better than he found it, and that's the mark of a good leader."
He was also a laborer with the Peoria County Highway Department. His boss, County Engineer Amy McLaren, said Forney was a "good person." She said he was instrumental in improving the safety protocols at the department.
County Administrator Scott Sorrel, said he believes Forney is the first county employee to die due to COVID-19.
"Bob lived the life of a true public servant not only as a maintainer for our Highway Department but also in his role with the Brimfield Fire Protection District. Team Peoria County offers our prayers to Bob's family," he said.
On Friday, there will be a public visitation at the Haskell Funeral & Cremation Services in Princeville for people to pay their respects from 3 to 8 p.m. The family will not be there due to gathering restrictions under the state's Tier 3 mitigation rules.
Family and friends are invited to his graveside service at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Brimfield Township Cemetery. His sons said beforehand there will be procession of fire trucks from the funeral to the cemetery. At the graveside ceremony, a bell will be tolled marking his final call, a tradition to honor fallen firefighters.
The brothers noted that on Tuesday, just before their father died, the department ran its 100th call of the year. It was a sign, they thought, as that was his radio number.
A few hours later, as they gathered at the station to remember him, another call came in. It was call No. 102 — Forney's number before he was promoted to chief.
(c)2021 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)