Less than two hours after welcoming a departed comrade home as his remains were brought back to Canada Friday, hundreds of firefighters packed a South Surrey funeral centre to pay tribute to “Our Cal” – Capt. Calvin Brook McKibbon.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd, firefighter Terry Hunt remembered a man who was passionate about life, his family, his job and the outdoors.
“For 26 years, he made an impression on everybody he worked with,” Hunt said.
McKibbon died Aug. 18, after his parachute failed to deploy while skydiving near Seattle, Wash. He was 51.
Pausing at times to regain his composure, Hunt roused a knowing chuckle from attendees when he said there were many stories about his friend – but only some he could repeat to a crowd; like how McKibbon would don night-vision goggles to run “reconnaissance missions” to help clamp down on marijuana grow operations. At the time, McKibbon was working with the department’s Electrical Fire Inspection team, an initiative aimed at reducing the impact of the grow-ops on the community.
Then there were the times McKibbon would head to corn fields to practise his shooting skills. He was an expert marksman, Hunt said, recalling a time the pair both hit their mark three times in a row. That was the day McKibbon had suggested Hunt get his own gun.
“I think it was his way of telling me we need to hang out more together,” Hunt said. “I wish I could.”
Chief Len Garis lauded McKibbon’s commitment, then got a laugh when he noted the father of four’s preference for wearing white socks. It was against department protocol, but McKibbon persisted, Garis said. On Friday, many firefighters – including some who emailed their support from the World Police and Fire Games in New York – were wearing white socks.
Known as someone who wanted to try everything, he would want those who loved him to celebrate his life, said Rev. Bruce Rushton.
“Because inside was a little boy who wanted to try so many different things,” Rushton said. “He brought joy and laughter to the lives of others and he was so proud to be a Surrey firefighter.”
McKibbon, who had homes in South Surrey and Lynden, Wash., joined the fire department Aug. 6, 1985 and worked as a suppression firefighter for the majority of his career. Prior to joining the fire department, McKibbon was a Surrey RCMP officer, stationed in Cloverdale.
Firefighters from the Lower Mainland and across the U.S. border lined Pacific Highway Friday to pay tribute as McKibbon’s remains were brought back to Canada in a small procession of motorcycles, a fire truck and four cars.
Later, McKibbon’s longime friend, Surrey battalion Chief Lorne West, remembered him as someone who wasn’t afraid to take chances.
“He was never afraid of anything,” West said. “He wasn’t stupid about risk, but he wasn’t uncomfortable with it.”
McKibbon was “well-known and well-regarded,” West added.
“He’s probably had a falling out with more friends than most people ever have friends. I’ve never met a guy who made friends so fast.”