Editor's note: The meet-up location for the parade has changed since this story was first published shortly before 3 p.m. Members of the public are now being asked to meet in front of the Cineplex theatre at 507 Cundles Rd. E.
First-responders will pay tribute to one of their own today after retired firefighter Grant McCulloch was recently given 12 days to live.
McCulloch will watch a drive-by tribute from his hospital window at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie.
BarrieToday spoke to McCulloch’s brother, Dan, who was with Grant at the local hospital on Monday.
Dan is visiting from British Columbia and has been by his brother’s side since he arrived in town.
“We’re all here with him. Family has been making rounds, sharing stories and we’re getting in all the time we have,” Dan said. “That's the part I guess we can be grateful for, in a sense. We’ve been given the heads up and have been able to be together before he goes.”
Some of the family that is visiting includes Grant's wife of 28 years, Marjory, as well as seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“The younger ones are coming in and they don’t know what's happening, you know? They see Grandpa in the bed or hooked up to stuff and they just wonder why he is in here,” Dan said. “That's tough, it's just so hard.”
McCulloch served at Canadian Forces Base Borden for 44 years and retired in late 2020, but COVID-19 restrictions prevented his fellow firefighters from having a party for him.
This year, McCulloch developed heart issues and was admitted to RVH, where he has been receiving care.
It was determined that he needed bypass surgery, but when they attempted to intubate him, they were unable to do so.
The doctors discovered that he has terminal Stage 4 cancer of the esophagus and gave the 66-year-old very little time to live.
“That was about two weeks ago and we’re still here, but he’s not been eating for the last few days and he's really tired. He tries to communicate as best he can, but it's quiet,” said Dan. “That's OK. We’re all here listening and just wanting to be with him.”
McCulloch was a military air-engine technician and the family moved across the country from base to base during his long career.
It was at CFB Borden that McCulloch’s love for firefighting really begun.
“It's funny, when he was about 17, he was going by a house fire on his bike, I believe. He ended up breaking into the house and dragging out a kid. He went to go back to get the other kid, but got hit by an oncoming fire truck and broke his arm,” Dan recalled. “The other kid inside ended up dying, but I think that's when his love for the job started.”
When McCulloch retired last year, there was a Zoom retirement party where Dan says everyone shared a few laughs.
But Dan said today's parade will be emotional for everyone.
“Grant knows it's happening today. He’ll get to the window as best he can,” said his brother. “They’re bringing the aerial fire truck so they can come up to the window in the box. It's a wonderful thing and we’re all happy they are doing it.”
Dan says his brother could pass away at anytime and the family is staying as closeby as they can.
“There have been some nights where he's had a hard time breathing, last night was one. He may not have been here this morning,” Dan said.
The family is hoping to remind other firefighters to get checked for job-related cancer or for testing to be mandatory.
“These people (firefighters) go into homes with chemicals and fires with fuel burning with only the regard of potential victims in mind,” Dan said. “I’m sure it's different now from when Grant started, but man, the things their bodies are exposed to. Every firefighter out there needs to get checked immediately."
McCulloch was a Barrie volunteer firefighter and Simcoe County Rescue Squad member from 1981 until 1991 and was also a CFB Borden firefighter from 1990 to 2020. He was also the union president for Local 620.
Prior to becoming a firefighter, he worked at the Department of National Defence Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot.
The public is welcome to join firefighters later today in thanking McCulloch for his service to his communities.
The meet-up location will be at the Cineplex at the North Barrie Crossing Shopping Centre at 507 Cundles Rd. E., at 4:30 p.m.
Anyone attending is asked to follow public health guidelines.