Former firefighter takes Sentimental Journey

·3 min read

Aug. 10—Veteran Muskogee firefighter Roy Derebery cheerfully shook hands with old friends and marveled at new fire engines during a Tuesday visit to Muskogee Fire Department.

"He had a smile on today that I hadn't seen in months," said Derebery's daughter, Carol Napier, who accompanied him on the visit.

The visit was arranged through Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service's Sentimental Journey program, which provides special trips for terminally ill patients or hospice patients.

Derebery, who stays in a Vian nursing home and is under hospice care, was a firefighter from 1951 to 1981 and retired as assistant chief in 1981.

Napier said Tuesday's visit brought back all the good memories he had from the fire department.

"He gets to see the older friends that have come in, and the new guys, learning about the new building that wasn't here when he was a fireman," she said.

Muskogee County EMS spokeswoman Trish German said someone at the Vian nursing home had called her wanting to know how to reach Muskogee Fire Department.

"She told me Mr. Derebery's story, and I called his daughter, the hospice, nursing home and getting information on him," German said, adding that she decided it would be a good Sentimental Journey.

"We decided to bring him back to the fire department, kind of do a little tour because he had been a little depressed lately," she said. "We have found that through Sentimental Journey that it helps with stress, depression and pain. We're all excited about doing the Sentimental Journey with him."

Friends who worked with Derebery decades ago gathered in the station's garage to greet him before the tour.

James Keasling, who joined the fire department in 1969, reminisced about old houses, including houses that used to have cardboard for wallpaper.

Keasling recalled Derebery as a good assistant chief.

"He was fair with everybody, however, you did what he told you to do. He was a firm, but good man," Keasling said. "Back then, we did a lot of physical activities."

Jess Windrix said Derebery encouraged him to join the fire department.

"We've always been friends ever since," he said, adding that he last visited Derebery in Vian about three months ago.

Derebery then toured the main fire station on Columbus Street, which had not been built when he served the department.

When Derebery saw individual bedrooms where firefighters stay, he recalled sleeping in bunks in group settings.

"When I was a fireman, we had a room up above the first floor," he said. "We didn't have a pole then."

He recalled riding a firetruck's tailboard when he started as a private.

"When I first went," he said. "We went to our first fire in that time. A truck ran into a house, was making a turn. And five people died."

German said the EMS usually does one Sentimental Journey a year. The latest was when a patent visited his home and family Christmas Day a couple of years ago.

"It's really a special situation, somebody reaches out to us and says, hey I've got this person," she said. "We'd like people to be in Muskogee County."

Any EMS staff member, hospital or hospice agency can recommend a patient.

The Muskogee County EMS Sentimental Journey team will screen all requests. All referrals require at least two weeks advanced notice.

Learn more

—For more information on the Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service's Sentimental Journey program, contact Trish German at (918) 683-0130.