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From heroin addict to hero: Woman credits Cheviot Fire Chief for changing her life

Woman credits Cheviot Fire Chief for changing her life (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A recovering heroin addict who once lived in abandoned buildings is now part of a local fire chief's family.

How they made a connection and the difference they've made in each other's lives is a continuing source of inspiration for everyone.


Riding on the fire truck in the Harvest Home Parade was a big deal for one 21-year-old woman from Cheviot.

“To be able to be in the parade with the fire chief… life changing moment… meant so much,” said Courtney Schnabel, who has survived heroin overdoses.

Courtney and Cheviot Fire Chief Robert Klein first met last summer outside the firehouse.

She likely looked like one photo of her that shows her high on heroin. Acquaintances dumped her outside the firehouse after she overdosed, again.

"I remember him standing over me and talking to me because I was freaking out,” said Courtney.

The overdose faces had started to blend together for Chief Klein. Numbers will explain this. His department has Narcan’d 60 overdoses so far this year, in the city of just 1.2 square miles.

The chief didn't know when he Narcan’d Courtney last year, but it saved and changed her life.

"I didn't want to live like that anymore, done with it,” said Courtney.

Courtney has been sober a year now. She works as a waitress. A couple of months ago she thought she recognized the man with his family at one of her tables.

"I asked him ‘are you a firefighter?’ That's when it clicked that he saved my life,” said Courtney.

"She got emotional. I kind of did too which doesn't happen very often,” said Fire Chief Robert Klein.

"I looked at him and said I think you saved my life,” said Courtney.

"When I saw her in that moment seeing my husband connect to her I felt immediate mother connection to her,” said Fire Chief Robert Klein’s wife, Theresa.

The next day Theresa dropped off a necklace with the word “strength” on it. Wishing Courtney strength one day at a time. Courtney posted it on Facebook.

“Things like that light a fire back to me. Thank God for life and for second chances,” said Courtney.

Courtney's grandmother sent a thank you note to Chief Klein for not stopping at “three.” There's some talk that addicts should be Narcan’d no more than three times.

"That was my fourth time when I got dropped off here. If I'd been Narcan’d three times, I wouldn't be here,” said Courtney.

Courtney now manages a sober living house in Price Hill. The women have to get a job and pay rent.

Courtney enforces the rules which include four meetings a week, AA or Narcotics Anonymous, a curfew and random drug tests.

"When the girls come in off the streets, I see me in them I pick them up and build them up. It’s what you do for each other,” said Courtney.

And that's what the Klein’s do for her

"Just like a mom would do, I'll be a cheerleader in life and to let her know I'm so proud, if you stumble it doesn't matter, I will be there to give you words of encouragement to pick you up like I would my own children,” said Theresa.

"She's given back more than we've ever done for her. She's given hope to me, hope I had forgotten,” said Fire Chief Robert Klein. "Heroes come in all different sizes.”

And heroes get invited to be in the hometown parade

Courtney said she wanted to get off heroin but didn't know how. When she called the Center for Addiction Treatment, known as the "CAT House," they put her on a waiting list.

Hamilton county leaders say they've been trying to get funding for more treatment centers.

There's a hotline if you or someone you know needs help right away. You can call 513-281-7422.

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