On March 11, 1999, firefighter Matthew Barnes was instrumental in the rescue of two six-week-old babies from the ninth floor of a raging apartment building fire on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In most circumstances, a 100-foot aerial ladder fully extended is adequate to reach a 9th floor apartment. The high ceilings in this building and a decorative cornice between the 8th and 9th floors left the tip of the latter and Firefighter Barnes swaying in the strong winds about five feet away from the mother trying desperately to hand her baby through the open window. Barnes clipped his safety harness to the top rung, timed his reach to the sway of the ladder and took the baby boy from her arms. The mother shouted for him to hurry so he could come back for the baby’s twin sister. He handed off the baby boy to another firefighter lower down on the ladder and repeated the rescue for the baby girl. When he was awarded the prestigious Honor Legion Medal in 2000, his captain wrote: “He was in extreme danger as the aerial ladder was at its maximum extension, pointed straight up, in an unsupported position. FF Barnes’ agility and strength were being severely tested.”
This 11-year veteran left behind three sons with whom he loved to go fishing.