Jason Barnes was his best self when, as the flood ravaged his own Main Street business, he stepped out into the rushing water to rescue a woman stranded in her Fiat. The historic street was an angry river, but Barnes didn’t care. He appeared determined to bring that woman to safety, and the people around him followed.
Barnes had already been knocked down once by the force of the flood when he made his second attempt. It was less than two feet of water, but it was flowing at high speed. He couldn’t keep his footing, but that didn’t stop him from wading into the river again.
He had help on his second attempt. “Grab his hand,” someone in the background shouted. Three men grabbed onto each other and formed a human chain, with Barnes at the end, reaching for the submerged car.
“Get out of the car!” people up and down Main Street screamed. “I can’t do it,” the woman responded.
“You have to,” the rescuers shouted back.
The woman continued to hesitate, so — taking a huge risk with his own life — Barnes let go of the chain, lost his footing for a harrowing moment, and then grabbed the woman from the window of the car. She reached her arm out toward the human chain and they connected, pulling Barnes and the woman to safety.
“Jason was incredibly brave and a little bit reckless to wade out to that,” David Dempster, co-owner of Main Street’s Still Life Gallery, told The Washington Post. “When he went down, I thought that was it for Jason. I thought he would be swept away to his death.”
This wasn’t the only scene of heroism from Saturday night. First responders kicked out windows and blasted holes through walls with axes to reach trapped residents.
Restaurant patrons tried desperately to open the windows at Portalli’s to let a stranded woman in until she was rescued by someone else.
Barnes and his partners represent all of the risks taken to save lives that night. They are heroes.