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Jackson Newspapers - Ripley, WV
  • Act of valor shines light on Ripley firefighter

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  • RIPLEY - In one of the three common Japanese alphabets, "Kanji" are a set of ideographic symbols borrowed from the Chinese language. In American culture, you often see the Kanji symbol for "bravery" inked as a tattoo or worn on the front of t-shirts by teenagers frolicking through shopping malls.
    If you dig deeper into the heart of America, you can find real life heroes who exemplify what bravery is all about.
    On the evening of December 28, 2012, the Ripley Fire Department was dispatched to an auto accident on Route 33 near Joe's Run Road. An elderly man was trapped in his Chevrolet HHR that had careened off of the road, hit a tree and landed upright in a creek that through days of rain, had risen to over six feet deep and had produced a current that was deceptively strong.
    When Fire Chief Rick Gobble, 50, received the call, he was home with his wife, Kim. They were about to go out for dinner.
    Gobble and his 34 years of experience arrived on the scene, where he found two men perched on a sycamore branch desperately grasping for Ralph Clark, 75 of Hurricane. Clark had been submerged for at least 15 minutes and had become sleepy from the affects of hypothermia. The water was frigid and unforgiving as only his head and upper torso were above the water line.
    Clark is a Navy veteran who served in the Korean War.
    "We are taught through our training not to go into cold water without the proper equipment (wet suits, etc.). I just took off my jacket and told those guys that if I go under to key my radio up and say "fireman down, fireman down" and then I went in," Gobble said.
    Gobble was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes.
    Some bystanders offered to form a human chain but Gobble, who spent time as a lifeguard in his youth, thought it would be safer as a solo mission. Gobble was able to secure Clark with the help of the men on the tree branch.
    "I just told them, grab anything you can and hold on."
    Once Gobble was able to get his hands on Clark he found the man to be awake and able to talk but fading and growing increasingly sleepy. Clark expressed that his feet were trapped but in reality, Gobble discovered that it was the strong current creating the physical illusion of entrapment.
    Clark, a large man who weighed near 300 pounds was hauled to shore by Gobble who weighs about 210.
    Ripley FD Battalion Chief Chuck Hitt and Jeremy Barnette (EMS) were the first to get a hand on the two men.
    "Chuck and some other guys grabbed us both and pulled us through the mud and got us up over the bank. I couldn't let go of Mr. Clark. My body was frozen and my muscles had just locked up," said Gobble.
    Page 2 of 2 - "We just kept encouraging him and telling him (Clark) to stay with us through it all."
    Also on the scene were Ripley FD's Lieutenants Jonathan Mitchell, Ryan Hitt and EMS's Josh Sowards. Ripley Deputy Police Officer Mike Strobbee processed the accident scene.
    "By the time we got to shore, all of these men were waiting to take over the situation. I can't say enough about my brothers in the Fire Department, EMS and Police Department," added Gobble.
    Both men were transported by ambulance to Jackson General and Clark was routed to Saint Marys.
    At last report, Clark is still hospitalized and Gobble was treated for various scrapes and cuts and returned home later that night where he thawed out by the fire at his home.
    "I slept for what seemed like the whole day. I was exhausted." said Gobble.
    Several days later Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader summonsed Gobble to her office where they discussed the accident and his quick decision-making.
    Gobble has tried to find out who the men were on the sycamore branch that were a tremendous help and wanted to assist in any way they could. Gobble has asked around the community but no one has come forward.
    Said Gobble, "I feel like I was a part of a group of men who were doing their job. I don't feel like a hero. I did what anyone else would do in that situation."
    Gobble's wife, Kim and daughter Lindsey were listening on the scanner through the whole ordeal.
    It is worthy of noting that there are two father and son combinations on the Ripley Fire Department
    Gobble's son Ritchie is a Captain and also works full time for EMS. Battalion Chief Chuck Hitt's son (Ryan) serves as a Lieutenant.
    Ralph Clark's family was unable to be reached for comment.
    So, what was going through Gobble's mind as he hit the chilling water that was well over his head?
    "I just said a little prayer and asked God to watch over all of the men who were at the scene," added Gobble.
    In the end, it appears that bravery is alive and well in Jackson County and not just a symbol on a t-shirt.

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