A first re­spon­der looks out for his own

Long­time Cetro­nia em­ployee shares story of his son’s death.

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Lehman

Chuck Deprill was ner­vous. He was stand­ing be­fore a con­fer­ence room filled with fel­low first re­spon­ders and, af­ter years of agony and guilt, he was fi­nally ready to tell them the story of Corey, his fire­fighter son.

The first re­spon­ders were Deprill’s peo­ple. He spent a life­time along­side them, build­ing both his ca­reer and fam­ily around a

de­sire to help oth­ers. Deprill’s wife is a para­medic and their two sons served as vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers ea­ger to help oth­ers, of­ten at the worst time of their lives.

As Deprill stood at the front of the room for that Oc­to­ber con­fer­ence of first re­spon­ders, he didn’t have to prac­tice what to say. He knew how to speak their lan­guage.

“Af­ter al­most 50 years in EMS, I don’t want some­one to think they have to hide it when they have a prob­lem,” Deprill said. “We are no bet­ter, no dif­fer­ent than the peo­ple we care for. We face the same prob­lems they have, and need to re­mem­ber that for each call.”

This would be the first time Deprill would share Corey’s story. He felt the first re­spon­ders needed to hear it, that it might save a life.

From “dumb kids” to first re­spon­ders

As an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian, Deprill of­ten brought his young sons — Michael and Corey — with him on calls that in­ter­rupted the fam­ily’s din­ner or hol­i­day plans. Al­though he would tell the boys to stay in the car when he went to help, they rarely obeyed.

“They wanted to be right there in the mid­dle of the ac­tion with me,” Deprill re­called dur­ing an in­ter­view. “And I un­der­stand that. How could I not?”

For nearly five decades, Deprill has worked for Cetro­nia and sev­eral other de­part­ments as an EMT. His wife, Su­san, is a para­medic, and their old­est son, Michael, is a fire­fighter and 911 dis­patcher.

Serv­ing oth­ers and giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity is some­thing the Deprills in­stilled in both of their sons — and both fell in love with fire­fight­ing.

At age 16, Corey be­gan as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter with the Fo­gelsville Fire Com­pany. He en­joyed it so much he went to fire academy and even­tu­ally achieved Fire­fighter 1 sta­tus, an ex­per­tise not al­ways re­quired for vol­un­teer de­part­ments.

At Corey’s side at Fo­gelsville was long­time friend Ja­son Eck­ert, who now works as a para­medic in Ma­cungie.

Both grew from “young, dumb kids hang­ing out at the fire com­pany” to ex­pe­ri­enced first re­spon­ders who learned un­der the pa­tient guid­ance of the Deprills and other pro­fes­sion­als, Eck­ert said.

At least once a week, Eck­ert said, he would visit Corey and if he smelled din­ner cook­ing, knew he didn’t need an in­vite from the Deprills — he called them “Mom and the Old Man.” Eck­ert knew he had an au­to­matic seat at the table where much of the talk would be about fire calls or am­bu­lance runs.

“Just take this”

“The great­est thing about first re­spon­ders is they are all fam­ily and ev­ery­one knows each other,” said Eck­ert, who lives in North White­hall Town­ship. “There are times you don’t even have to tell them what’s go­ing on with each other. They can al­most sense it.”

But it seemed no one sensed Corey’s strug­gles.

Corey was 20 when he needed surgery to re­pair a her­nia he suf­fered in his full-time job as driver of a wheel­chair van. Corey needed to re­turn to work sooner than ex­pected and was still deal­ing with pain when, his father said, a friend of­fered his son Oxycon­tin, an opi­oid painkiller.

“He said, ‘Here, Corey. Just take this. It will knock the pain right out,’ ” Deprill said. “And that was the be­gin­ning ... ”

Corey was able to hide his ad­dic­tion from nearly ev­ery­one. Eck­ert said the only sign was that Corey be­gan to sep­a­rate him­self a bit from his beloved fire­fight­ers, hang­ing out with a dif­fer­ent group that would snow­mo­bile and ride mo­tor­cy­cles.

“Corey was just keep­ing to him­self more and seemed to have some off days, but I didn’t pry de­tails from him,” Eck­ert said.

Even though Deprill and his fam­ily, as first re­spon­ders, know all the signs and symp­toms of drug use, they missed them un­til Corey’s first ar­rest in 2009 for theft. That’s when all the de­tails of his ad­dic­tion came tum­bling out.

Drug ex­perts say the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of those ad­dicted turn to heroin the same way Corey did — he could no longer get pre­scrip­tion painkillers.

Deprill said he re­al­ized af­ter the ar­rest his son had spun wild tales to cover up his be­hav­ior and signs of drug use.

Deprill un­curled his arm and pointed to the in­ner el­bow — that’s where he’d see punc­tures and marks left be­hind from Corey shoot­ing up heroin.

“He’d say, ‘Dad, I was climb­ing a tree and the branches scraped my arm,’ ” Deprill said. “And I be­lieved it be­cause he liked to do stupid stuff like that. He’s been a sto­ry­teller all his life and I didn’t re­al­ize what he was telling me wasn’t true.”

Fear­ing the worst

Deprill said his son thought he could con­trol his ad­dic­tion, but it rav­aged his life. He stole from his par­ents and wiped out their bank ac­counts. Corey owed money to drug deal­ers — they broke into the Deprills’ home and stole a tele­vi­sion and small items.

Corey had to leave his beloved fire crew af­ter he stole $90 worth of gaso­line from the de­part­ment to sup­port his habit.

“He kept telling me, ‘I got this, I can han­dle this,’ ” Deprill said, tears in his eyes. “And I was like, ‘You have no clue what you’re into.’ ”

Corey went to re­hab twice, but it took a stint in jail be­fore he was fi­nally clean. Af­ter his re­lease, Corey was clean for 10 months and Deprill said he fi­nally felt hope — Corey was more de­ter­mined than ever to not re­turn to heroin.

When Corey went silent for sev­eral days in 2011, not an­swer­ing his cell­phone, Deprill feared the worst.

Corey died June 25 that year from a heroin and fen­tanyl over­dose. He was alone in his parked car, sur­rounded by sev­eral empty bags with a nee­dle still in his arm, Deprill said.

“It was the same num­ber of bags he used to shoot at the height of his ad­dic­tion,” Deprill said, break­ing down. “He was go­ing all in, I guess.”

The day Eck­ert learned of Corey’s death is one he said he’ll never for­get. He got a call from a friend and even years later, Eck­ert said the pain is still fresh.

“Corey had done some silly things and I had heard a ru­mor he was us­ing heroin and nee­dles, but you could never tell,” Eck­ert said. “Corey was al­ways sur­rounded with a group of friends and it wasn’t some­thing he showed us ever.”

No time to “sit back”

As the years passed, Deprill said he didn’t shy away from telling peo­ple how Corey died — if asked. But he kept his loss mostly to him­self.

Then in 2016, as the opi­oid cri­sis started killing hun­dreds each year in the Le­high Val­ley, Deprill heard about a com­mu­nity meet­ing at White­hall High School. He went and saw fam­i­lies grill au­thor­i­ties for an­swers about how to get treat­ment for their ad­dicted loved ones, and how to get drug deal­ers off the street and stem the grow­ing num­ber of deaths.

Deprill stood in the back of the stand­ing-room-only crowd and didn’t par­tic­i­pate.

As the crowd cleared, a young wo­man rec­og­nized Deprill and in­tro­duced her­self. She was a friend of Corey’s whom Deprill didn’t rec­og­nize. She told Deprill that his son had saved her life dur­ing a drug over­dose.

“Corey was there and sober and he was able to give her Nar­can to re­verse it,” Deprill said. “And, it hap­pened just a few months be­fore he died from the same fate.”

Af­ter the over­dose, the wo­man told Deprill, she moved out of the area and was able to over­come her ad­dic­tion.

Af­ter he heard how his son saved a life, Deprill put aside what­ever pain, self-re­crim­i­na­tion and re­gret he felt and stepped out to again serve and give back to the com­mu­nity — just as he had taught his boys.

“That mo­ment is when I knew I needed to con­tinue,” Deprill said. “It wasn’t enough for me to sit back and say noth­ing.”

That path led him to talk in front of that Oc­to­ber con­fer­ence of first re­spon­ders.

“I was re­ally scared to do it,” he said, “but once I spoke, I felt right at home.”

Corey Deprill

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Long­time emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian Chuck Deprill shows a photo me­mo­rial to his fire­fighter son who died from an over­dose af­ter fight­ing an opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

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