The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 12, 2013

Canadian hero: Alum Bank teen receives honors for rescue attempt

— Not everyone can say they would risk their life in an attempt to save another – much less at the age of 16 – but, after a boating accident, Eagle Scout Joe Barefoot found himself in a situation where he did just that.

When they aren’t spending the winter months at their home in Alum Bank, Joe’s family owns and operates the Bear’s Den Lodge, a fishing resort along the French River in Ontario, Canada, Joe’s mother, Brenda Barefoot, said.

During a guided fishing excursion on Aug. 26, 2009, Joe’s boat overturned, throwing him and an elderly male passenger into turbulent waters near a waterfall, his mother said.

“He tried to prevent the whole situation from occurring,” she said, adding that after getting himself to safety, Joe noticed his passenger and friend was still trapped in the water.

Joe said he realized the man was in trouble, and he didn’t hesitate to attempt a rescue.

“During the accident, I wasn’t really that panicky,” he said, explaining that he had to stay calm in order to attempt a successful rescue.

“I was trying to save my buddy,” he said. “After getting out of the water, I went back after him with all the tackle still tied between my legs.”

Unfortunately, Joe said his rescue effort was unsuccessful, and his mother said Joe was hurt because he was unable to save his lifelong friend.

“It was a loss of a very, very close person,” she said. “He was here on the day that Joe was born, and he was here every year on his birthday.”

Though Joe’s rescue effort was unsuccessful, his mother said his attempt was heroic, and she isn’t the only one who thinks so.

David Johnston, Canadian governor general – the Queen of England’s representative in Canada – recognized his heroism, too, she said.

Johnston presented now 19-year-old Joe a Star of Courage and 46 Medals of Bravery on June 7 at a ceremony at Rideau Hall, the Queen’s Canadian home, in Ontario, Brenda said.

“Someone has to nominate you to get the award,” she said, explaining that the family was unable to figure out who nominated him.

“To this day we don’t know who nominated him,” she said, “but it helped him understand that he was a hero for trying to help save the elderly gentleman’s life.”

Joe said receiving the award was a rewarding experience, and he is grateful for being recognized.

“I had never heard of this award. It was an amazing experience to receive it,” he said. “I am not only receiving it for myself, I am also doing it in memory of my friend.”

In addition to being a recipient, Joe said he appreciated the chance to meet others being honored for their heroic actions.

“It was nice to see that there were other people there like me. It was not only Canadian citizens that received the awards. There were Americans there, too,” he said.

Though Joe had been invited to receive the award several times before, Brenda said he was unable to make the trip until this year because of his busy schedule.

Joe studies marketing at the University of Tennessee at Martin and holds two high-ranking Scout titles – Eagle Scout and Chief Scout, the Canadian equivalent.

“As far as I know, I am the only Boy Scout that has two high-ranking (titles) from two different nations in the world.”

Brenda said Joe also was honored by the Boy Scouts, who presented him with the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms.

“That’s the highest award a Boy Scout can receive,” she said. “He is the 247th recipient.”

Only 277 Scouts have received the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms since it was first awarded in 1938, according to the Boy Scouts of America website.

Joe also holds 12 additional Boy Scout palm awards, Brenda said.

“That is quite beyond most people,” she said.

At the completion of the Rideau Hall ceremony, the award recipients and their families were granted an exclusive tour of the home, Joe said.

“There might be some special events where the public is allowed in, but we got to see much more of the house,” he said. “It was just a fantastic place.”

Joe and Brenda both said their experience with the governor general was positive, and they are thankful for having been recognized.

“The man was super generous and super nice,” Joe said.

Brenda added, “He said, of all the awards he had given, this is the most heroic that he’s heard of. They treated (Joe) like royalty.”

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