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Kalamazoo Sheriff said he understands why deputies refuse life-saving awards

Kalamazoo Sheriff said he understands why deputies refuse life-saving awards. (Video Courtesy: Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office)

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller was out to grab a quick bite to eat Tuesday evening and ended up saving two lives.

Fuller pulled into the parking lot of the Qdoba on West Main St. when he happened glance inside a silver SUV to see the driver slumped over the steering wheel.

"He was drooling, right away I recognized what I thought was an overdose," Fuller said.

The engine of the SUV still running, Fuller took a closer look inside.

Fuller said, "Then I see the passenger shooting up and I thought to myself, ‘Really?’"

In an unmarked car within city limits and out of uniform, Fuller called 911.

The first officer on scene did not have the antidote to combat an opioid overdose, but a sheriff's deputy who overheard the call over the radio arrived minutes later with Narcan, or Naloxone.

Fuller said he doesn't know what would have happened to the two men if he hadn't seen them. "They did not have regular breathing, they had low pulses," he said.

The sheriff pushed to put Narcan kits, which includes two doses of medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in every deputy's patrol car.

"He tossed me a Narcan and then he stops me and says 'gloves!'" Fuller said.

More than nine years since his last patrol, the sheriff said, his deputy had to give him a couple tips before his training took over.

Brought back to consciousness by the Narcan the two men, a 23-year-old and 28-year-old, survived.

Fuller said, "One of the officers looked at me after we recovered the passenger and he says just last week the ambulance had to do the same thing for this man downtown."

Sheriff Fuller typically gives deputies life-saving awards for administering Narcan, but after doing it himself, Fuller said, he now understands why many deputies refuse to take those awards in similar situations.

Fuller said he's saved lives before, but this rescue felt different.

"We stopped an overdose, that might not be the same as saving their lives. I think what will save their lives is if somehow they are taken away from that addiction because they both admitted to having an addiction to heroin," Fuller said.

The chance encounter in a Qdoba parking lot shows just how big of a problem heroin is locally, Fuller said, which is why the Narcan is important.

Funded by grant money by the Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health, the potentially life-saving medication is provided at no cost to the sheriff's office.

Every life is worth saving, Fuller said, but saving someone from addiction is what really saves lives.

The incident is still under investigation and it's possible the two men rescued could face criminal charges.

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