CARY – At the end of Deputy Fire Chief Bill Gitzke’s shift Thursday evening, firefighters in their turnout coats and helmets lined up to form a tunnel in the engine bay. Gitzke then walked toward his grandchildren, under pike poles held by the firefighters.
Gitzke retired from the Cary Fire Protection District on Thursday after being with the department since 1962. He turns 70 today and has worked as a paid on-call firefighter, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and deputy chief. He usually worked at the department two or three times a week.
Gitzke still runs his business, G Communications, out of his house in Cary. He has set up and fixed radios and communication systems for fire departments and police departments in many municipalities, fire Lt. Andy Veath said.
He currently is help the Cary district with an upgrade of its radio system.
“I’m sure we’ll still see him around the station assisting with that,” Veath said.
Gitzke always kept the radio on at night when he was away from the station. The department used to tabulate who made the most calls in a year and Gitzke often led. “When the alarm went off, he was there,” Veath said.
“Fifty-one years of getting up and going, that’s enough,” Gitzke said.
Over the years, Gitzke had to adjust to changes in firefighting and medical calls.
For medical calls, firefighters once would check a person’s airway and then it was off to the hospital. Now firefighters stay on the scene, administer drugs if needed, hook up patients to monitors, and then transport them to hospitals.
Gitzke was one of the first EMTs for Cary.
He also helped start the mutual aid box system in McHenry County, under which departments assist one another in larger fires.
Firefighters used to fight fires with the equivalent of a garden hose, Gitzke said. Now there are larger water lines and trucks have more electronics on board. Equipment to keep firefighters safe has advanced, too, with protective masks and cameras to help determine sources of fires.
“A lot of things change in the fire service,” said Gitzke, who comes from a firefighting family. His father, Pete, was a firefighter in Cary, and his son is part of the fire district. Even his daughter-in-law is a firefighter, and so was his father-in-law.
“It’s in your blood,” Gitzke said.
He said he’ll spend time with his grandchildren in retirement, relax for awhile and enjoy life. But he’ll continue to run his business and will be a consultant for the fire department, he said.
Gitzke was the longest-serving member of the department.
“He’s a wonderful guy. He always has a smile on his face,” Veath said.