- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

CRAMERTON, N.C. (AP) - Luke Karagias literally ran from his high school graduation last May - not because he was happy to be finished with school but because he had to catch another class.

The 18-year-old was finishing up a ventilation course he would need for a firefighting certification.

“I was freaking out a week before,” he said. “This is a class I have to have, and I have to get it done. It doesn’t circle around until the next year.”

He didn’t even want to walk the stage at graduation for fear he would lose out on the opportunity. But his mentor, Cramerton Fire Chief Lance Foulk, convinced him otherwise.

“I had to get him straight on that and tell him that’s not right,” he said. “That’s a big life moment.”

That determination and hard work earned Karagias the Cramerton Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year award.

At only 18, Karagias already has 500 hours and three certifications under his belt, including firefighter 1 and 2 and EMT. He’s been volunteering with Cramerton Fire Department for about two years.

Becoming a firefighter was always a dream of his, he says. But it’s become an obsession after his volunteer hours with Cramerton.

“I’ve just always been determined on being a fireman since I was little,” he said. “And really I just never stopped wanting it.”

Foulk says a lot of young men bring big dreams to the fire department, but Karagias’ hard work that makes him unique.

On top of wrestling for South Point High School, attending class and working on his certifications, Karagias spent almost every night at the fire department during his senior year.

“I didn’t want to miss any calls,” he says.

And he learned a lot from the department, especially Foulk and Assistant Fire Chief Barry Wilson, he said.

“It’s their work ethic that’s really taught me so much,” he said. “We all motivate each other. It’s just like one big family.”

Karagias has applied for positions with the Gastonia and Charlotte Fire departments while still working toward his undergraduate degree.

But, as Foulk as told him, there’s still a lot more work to do.

“Stay on track. Stay committed. And stay humble,” Foulk said he told Karagias.

“It comes with some sweat and some headaches and bumps and bruises,” he said. “But he’s very ambitious and has got a bright future.”

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Information from: The Gaston Gazette, https://www.gastongazette.com

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