LOWELL -- When firefighter John Gallant returns home from the hospital in April, the Lowell Fire Department wants to make sure his transition goes as smoothly as possible.
Gallant, paralyzed from the waist down after a brutal car accident, is expected to return home to Pepperell on April 24. He is currently at the Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem, N.H.
So that Gallant can concentrate on his recovery, Lowell firefighters have taken it upon themselves to renovate his house, making it completely handicap-accessible. They are also planning several fund-raisers to help Gallant and his wife, Mary, who is battling cancer, pay for related expenses, such as a new wheelchair and building supplies for the house.
"We have a group of guys with experience in construction who are working to get the permits and submitting plans," Fire Chief Bill Desrosiers said. "The guys are just all chipping in."
Gallant has worked in the Lowell fire department for nearly 25 years, and ever since his accident on Feb. 21, his colleagues have been by his side. Firefighters visit Gallant every day in the hospital, a lift he says has been immeasurable in helping him to adjust to his new life.
"You don't know how many friends you have until something like this happens," Gallant said. "All their work and help has really taken the pressure off Mary."
Gallant is active in many city charities including Toys for Tots and the Christmas in April program. The Fire Department is hoping the community will now be willing to help him.
Desrosiers said the department is organizing a number of fund-raisers, including a big event June 18 at the Lowell Elks, to help Gallant's family. Desrosiers said there will be a raffle and prizes, and he expects a big turnout from both the Fire Department and the public.
"As soon as this happened, people said, 'What can we do, what can we do?'," Desrosiers said. "Everybody just wants to help John."
Firefighter Bob Littlefield said the department has already received a number of donations from local businesses and is looking for services or raffle items that anyone is willing to contribute.
Tom Machado, of Machado and Son Landscaping and Paving Company in Lowell, has volunteered to build a walkway at Gallant's house, and Littlefield said John Esler of Better Living Sun Rooms of Boston in Westboro has already renovated Gallant's sunporch and volunteered to do more if needed. BFI has also donated a Dumpster.
"They're the best, the Fire Department," Machado said. "When the chips are down, they're always there. I feel bad for him because it's not easy, but I wish him the best."
People can also make contributions to a fund set up in Gallant's name at the firefighter's credit union in Lowell. Mail donations to: The John Gallant Fund 4027, c/o the Lowell Firefighters Credit Union, 642 Chelmsford St., Lowell, MA 01851.