Livingston Elementary School third-grader Reniya Ritter rescued her family from a potential tragedy in October, not long after receiving life-saving instruction from Newton County Fire Service officials.

by Chris Bridges

Reniya Ritter has proven herself as an attentive young student beyond any doubt.

The Livingston Elementary School third-grader is also proficient at breaking age barriers, as she was recently named an honorary firefighter by Newton County Fire Service officials. It was a well-earned distinction. The past few months have been harrowing at times for Reniya, but through it all, she has shown the importance of listening, learning and taking action when the situation demands it. She helped save the lives of several family members during a house fire on Oct. 16, putting the lessons she learned in a fire safety class into practice.

“I learned how to get out of a house or a truck when there’s smoke in there,” Reniya said, “and I learned how to be a good firefighter.”

Newton County Fire Safety Specialist James Franklin always hopes young students are listening when he and his department make their presentations for classes.

“We teach the class over a two-day period,” he said. “We watched a video that taught them what to do in the event of a fire, and then we talked about matches and lighters and the importance of not playing with them. We talked about the importance of having working smoke alarms in the house, and then we moved to the back of our trailer, where we can actually practice what we’ve learned. We fill up the room full of smoke and have the children practice crawling outside to a meeting place. We teach them to go home and ask their parents, ‘Where would we meet if there was a fire?’”

“When she got home, she explained that the fire department came to her school. She went over the drill, even climbing on her knees to show how to get out of the house.”

Nikia Ritter

The presentation caught Reniya’s attention. When she returned home after school, she was eager to talk about what she had learned. Her mother, Nikia, remembers those discussions.

“When she got home, she explained that the fire department came to her school,” she said. “She went over the drill, even climbing on her knees to show how to get out of the house. She also talked about sparkles that you might see in a fire.”

Reniya was encouraged to immediately report any colorful sparks or the smell of smoke to an adult. No one could have imagined that the family’s rental house would catch fire just days later. As a result of her quick thinking and the lessons she learned in the class, Reniya and her family escaped the fire virtually unharmed. Although they lost their home, they still had each other. No one suffered serious physical injuries, but some had to deal with the effects of smoke inhalation. The mental toll has been far more difficult, as the family lost many priceless personal items like photos, including those of late loved ones. 

“I’m proud of her,” Nikia said. “She’s an attentive listener and very helpful. She wants to see people win and be successful. She helped us. She really, really saved us by listening and paying attention. I told her that was an A-plus for me, because not everybody pays attention and utilizes [what they have learned] and brings it home. Everything she learned from Mr. Franklin she brought home and shared it with her family. We were able to put that into perspective, and she saved us.”

Franklin beams with pride when discussing Reniya’s heroics. 

“It definitely made my day that she took the lesson to heart and brought that home to her family, and not only did she learn it, but she passed it on to them and put it into use,” he said. “I’m very proud of her.” Livingston Principal Dr. Yoli Howard shares those sentiments. “The fact that I have third-grader who came in, took it seriously, brought it home to her mother and was able to explain everything… it filled my heart as a principal just knowing that we are doing the right things, bringing the programs in and allowing the kids to have all of these different experiences,” she said. “It fills my heart to know that she really did get it.”

Reniya’s finds her most ardent supporter at home.

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“She kept a calm head,” Nikia said. “She took a class by the fire department, but her principal put her in there even though it was actually a class for fourth- and fifth-graders. There were a handful of third-graders who attended, and it meant she knew what to do in the case of a fire.”

The family has temporarily relocated to Conyers, but Reniya and her older sister, 11th-grader Asada Brown, continue to attend school in Newton County. “The Newton County School System transportation department has been great,” Nikia said. “Even though we are still out of the district currently, they are helping make sure they stay in their same schools.” She also pointed to the assistance the family has received from the Red Cross but admits the experience has been beyond difficult for all involved. “Our faith keeps us together,” Nikia said. “I appreciate what she learned. She is the type of person who wants to give to others even when she is struggling to have anything. She is just a sweetheart. We will pray through this and get through it. We pray for our own home one day.” 

Click here to read more stories by Chris Bridges.

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