BY RUSSELL HUFFMAN
STEPHENVILLE (February 23, 2019) – Usually, when cowboys retire, they hang up their spurs and prop their boot heels up on the front porch railing. Instead of riding into the sunset, Stephenville Fire Marshal Cody Derrick is going to be buckling on his spurs as he heads into the next chapter of his life.
After 23 years in the fire service (19 in Stephenville) and just a little more than a week into being a new dad, Derrick is ready to quickly turn those pages. Derrick and his wife, Crystal, have adopted a newborn baby girl Gabrielle and the last couple of weeks have been hectic.
Crystal went out of state to complete the adoption process and to be there when the baby was born. Meanwhile, Derrick was back in Stephenville by himself, and admittedly he was a bit distracted for a few days. The Derricks have been unable to have a child of their own – so this event of a lifetime has been a very long time coming.
To make it all the more special, Momma and Baby came home to Stephenville on Valentine’s Day.
“She’s beautiful!” Derrick said. “We had waited so long for this to happen.”
So what better way to get to know your new daughter than to be right there when she’s growing up and helping out his family in the ranching and oil business.
As with any long-term job, there are a few situations that stand out and make for good storytelling like the time Derrick dealt with the owner of a local hotel that was scheduled to open but hadn’t passed a fire inspection.
Derrick’s “final” inspection showed that some of the hotel’s room doors were not fully closing on their own.
“The doors have to close by themselves which creates a firewall,” Derrick said. “I explained the reason the doors needed to be adjusted, and the owner wasn’t happy for a variety of reasons including the doors might slam and wake up customers.”
While Derrick didn’t give a hint to what words were used the red-faced owner gave him a 10-minute long colorful dressing down; however, as Derrick was set to leave the man stated, “Mr. Marshal thank you for listening to me, and I will get those doors fixed.”
That ability to listen to folks and let them have their say (even when wrong) has earned Derrick a significant amount of respect, and he’s always tried to take an “educated approach.”
“I’ve tried to work with people in educating them rather than taking the approach of enforcement first,” he said.
In his fire-service time technology has been the biggest wonder for Derrick with the introduction of thermal cameras and reporting software where reports take minutes instead of days.
“I used to have to write it all down and then go back to the fire station and enter it all into the computer,” Derrick said. “Now it can be done on your phone or a tablet. I can pull up records right there on the spot.”
While he has lots of fond memories, working as a firefighter can also have its grim moments. One particular scene that has stuck in Derrick’s mind was an accident between Dublin and Stephenville before U.S. 377 became a divided two-lane highway.
Before the highway’s upgrade, the stretch of roadway earned the ominous nickname “Blood Alley” because of the high number of deaths – seven people lost their lives in just six months of one year.
“A minivan and a pickup truck collided head-on right at dusk,” Derrick said. “It was a pure accident with the sun going down where one person just couldn’t see the other vehicle.”
The minivan’s passengers included three children two of whom passed away. One of the children was temporally revived and paramedics got a heartbeat, but the child was braindead.
“I was there when the parents had the make the decision if they were going to donate their child’s organs,” Derrick said
Derrick gathered himself for a moment stroking the handlebar mustache he has grown before he continued. There’s a hard swallow before he speaks and sorrowful look in his eye.
“I’ve seen lots of people take their last breath and I’ve even been a part of some people taking their first breath,” Derrick said. “That was the hardest thing I have ever taken part of
Hereford and black Angus cattle are now also in Derrick’s future. His great grandfather was H.S. Foster who founded Foster’s Home for Children in Stephenville and three other children’s homes in Texas including Cherokee where Derrick’s family owns some additional property.
It’s going to real cowboy, too.
“Yeah, there are going to be sometimes when I have to be able to see over that brush and will be horseback,” Derrick laughs.
Derrick recounted some of his stories with his fellow firefighters Thursday at the “new” firehouse on NW Loop in Stephenville, and he also told the story of how he entered the fire service.
As a senior at Stephenville High School, he was attending career day when he got to see a presentation by Fire Chief Jimmy Chew and got hooked immediately on the idea of firefighting. It didn’t hurt that Chew went to school with Derrick’s parents and he was already familiar with “that kid” having known Cody his whole life.
“Cody was always a pretty good kid,” Chew laughed and then joked. “And if he didn’t do as I wanted I could always get his Granddad to get on him and make him do it.”
According to Chew, paramedicine was Derrick’s favorite job but then Chew, and Derrick both began to see he would make a good fire marshal. A break from the Stephenville Fire Department that included a trip as a Defense Department contracted firefighter overseas delayed that progress.
Eventually, when Derrick returned to Stephenville he worked his way into the Fire Inspector’s job and later in 2009 became the full-time Fire Marshal.