Long County High School graduate Nicholas Ribal recently joined the DeKalb County Fire and Rescue in Tucker, fulfilling his dream of becoming a firefighter.
Although Ribal has achieved his goal, he admits he didn’t always want to be a firefighter. When he was 10 years old, a tragedy struck that would affect the rest of his life.
In 2001, Nicholas and his older brother, Trevor, who was 12 at the time, were severely burned when a small gas can ignited, scorching the two children on their faces and chests. The two were in a lot of pain, and doctors were concerned with their internal burns and trauma to their eyes. As a result, the youngsters were transported to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta.
Both boys underwent many treatments and a lot of therapy, which was painful and difficult. As they struggled under the weight of these hardships, they were fortunate to discover Camp Oo-U-La, which is a burn camp in Winder sponsored by the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation. Many of the camp counselors were firefighters from around the state. They spent time with Nicholas and Trevor, who both went on to recover from their injuries and resume normal lives. Even after they were healed, though, the Ribals were never the same. When they were old enough, they returned to Camp Oo-U-La, this time as counselors ready to help young burn victims.
Nicholas Ribal also decided to become a firefighter, so he could help prevent fires, educate people on the dangers of fire and stress the importance of fire safety.
On Feb. 21, he graduated from the DeKalb County Fire Academy’s 16-week training course. He also earned two awards — the class’ academic award, which he got for posting a 97 grade-point average, and the Top Rung Award for achieving excellence in all areas.
After graduation, Ribal reflected on how being burned changed his life.
“It changed my perspective on life. It showed me how things can go so wrong in just an instant, but it also put me in contact with so many people in the fire service and pointed me in the direction to now. I’m doing what I know I was meant to do,” Ribal said. “Everyone has bad things that happen to them. The one thing that I would have people take away from my story is that any negative can become a positive. It’s just how you run with it that determines how it affects your life.”
Ribal’s mother, Kelly Clary, is especially proud of her son and his accomplishments.
“I could not be more proud,” she said. “He’s always been driven … He has accomplished his firefighter training and worked as an EMT intermediate. He now has his dream job of helping others in the fire service.”