NEW PORT RICHEY — If things do happen for a reason, then the tragic death of Salvadore Daprile served a purpose.
On May 25, 1974, Daprile, family members and neighbors enjoyed a boat ride off Hudson Beach. Daprile, 53, had just moved to Florida from Indiana, where he retired as a machinist. On this afternoon, two other boats crisscrossed in front of them, creating a large wake which capsized Daprile's boat. A neighbor's 7-year-old daughter, Charlean Wood, was trapped underneath, her life jacket stuck. Daprile kept diving, again and again, to free her. Both he and the little girl died.
Daprile's son, Doug, was in Indiana at this time. After graduating from high school, he joined the Marines and had just finished his tour of service. Doug Daprile was 21 and trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life. His father's death ripped his heart. He loved and respected that firm, yet kind, man so much. Daprile moved to Hudson to care for his mom and youngest brother, who both were on the boat that day.
He enrolled at Pasco-Hernando Community College and took a paramedic course — the first ever offered by the college. It felt like fate; that tingling, out-of-body feeling of finding your purpose and going at it with all you have. He couldn't save his father, but he could save thousands of others. When he graduated, his mother — who died a few years later from cancer — wrote him a note he has kept for more than 30 years:
"I know your Papa Daddy is with you in spirit today. How very happy and proud he would be to share this day with his son — as I am! Love …"
Daprile got a job with Pasco County Fire Rescue, which had just been created. Previously, all stations were their own entities; mostly volunteer and funded through fish dinners, carwashes and knocking on doors. In his off days, Daprile worked as a nurse at local hospitals and taught paramedic courses at PHCC. He married and had three children, now grown. Seven years ago, he divorced and got an apartment in New Port Richey. After years of seeing so many patients on dozens of medications — one creating side effects treated by another, those side effects treated by something else, with the person not well with any of it — Daprile began investigating holistic medicine, which led him to meet his love, an ethereal yet tough blond named Monica Moyle, a registered nurse.
They are both good souls; optimists who, through their careers, have seen the terrors of reality firsthand. Instead of making them cynical and guarded, this has increased their passion for helping people — something Daprile's co-workers and supervisors (nearly all of whom were taught by him) get emotional talking about. Daprile could have moved to another county to make more money. He could have easily moved up the Fire Rescue management ladder. But for 31 years, he stayed where he wanted to be: on the ambulances at the county's busiest stations, never burning out and always dazzling others by his steadfast nature — calm in chaos and so compassionate — averaging 60 calls a month, helping more than 22,000 people in his decades with Fire Rescue (not including the thousands of others he has treated as a nurse).
He tells all his students that if they learn only one thing from him, it is to treat patients as people — as if they were a relative — with kindness and respect, and that the little things — a joke, a blanket, a gentle word — mean everything.
Daprile has been content in the shadows — the teacher, the unnamed paramedic treating victims in newspaper photos. He has a thick scrapbook filled with these and thank-you notes from patients and their families. He has clipped stories charting the growth and success of PHCC's paramedic program and of Fire Rescue and photos of his colleagues, some long dead.
That — death, what he's spent his life thwarting for others — is what made him decide to retire this year; putting him in this first large wave of retirements from the original workers of Pasco Fire Rescue. He has known people in various fields who kept on going long after they could have quit, only to die weeks after finally retiring. His own dad, who worked grueling factory hours for decades, was only months into his retirement when he passed.
Daprile is 55 and fit, solid and handsome — and, if he has to retire, he might as well do it now, when he can enjoy it. He will still teach and he and Moyle might try a business venture in holistic medicine. Daprile's not sure yet, though he knows adapting to life without Fire Rescue will be difficult. He and Moyle will travel — the Grand Canyon this year, Hawaii next year.
A year ago, Daprile put a chart on his locker at his Fire Rescue station in Zephyrhills and, for each shift he worked, he crossed off a date. Last week he had his official retirement ceremony, and on June 28, a party organized by Moyle and his daughters. His last shift began at 8 a.m. June 29 and ended at 8 a.m. June 30.
Around 7:30 a.m., Daprile, freshly showered and drinking coffee, came out into the main room of the station. Chief Mike Ciccarello, who also is close to retirement, called Daprile and thanked him for all he has done. Daprile thought of his last run, a man with chest pains in Zephyrhills. Daprile told the man he was probably the last patient he would ever transport in an ambulance and the man, who was in pain and probably in the middle of a heart attack, told him, "Good luck," and then, before being taken by emergency room staff, the man thanked him for his kindness and wished him well in his future.
The guys at the station loitered around him, thinking of how strange life will be without their mentor. A few followed him to his room, where he crossed off the final day on his chart and carefully peeled it off his locker to put in his scrapbook. They helped him carry his things to his car and hugged him one more time, and then Daprile drove off, the sunlight still weak, the day just beginning.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.