Barbara Westbrook and Debra Billings, two census workers, agreed Tuesday night to take one last assignment to knock on 10 more doors in a neighborhood off North Main Street.
When the two women knocked on the door of a Colleton Street home, they heard a man's voice from inside. But a passing train prevented them from understanding what he said.
"We get all kinds of responses, from people telling us to go away, people who try to ignore us when we know they're there," Westbrook said.
The two women could have figured the man wanted them to leave and headed to the next address. After all, it was after 7 p.m. and they had nine more addresses to check before 8 p.m.
But they waited out the train and realized the man was calling for help.
"He said, 'I'm hurt. I've fallen and I need help. Call 911,' " Westbrook said.
Billings, whose husband is a volunteer firefighter, used her cell phone to call 911. Then the two women went to a nearby apartment complex to ask for help. Billings was not available Wednesday to talk about the rescue.
"She took him seriously and knew exactly what to do," Westbrook said in praising her co-worker's actions.
Neighbors removed the man's screen door, then a teenage boy kicked in the front door.
"It was just like the movies," Westbrook said. "He would run and jump up and kick at the door."
Once inside, they found a man face down in a corner. He had fallen while walking toward his television to start a movie, Westbrook said. He had been lying alone in a hot house for nearly 24 hours.
Richland County EMS workers transported the man from his home to the hospital. The census workers and EMS officials would not release the man's name or his condition, citing privacy laws.
After the rescue, Westbrook and Billings finished their assignment by finding the residents at nine other addresses who had not returned their census forms. All nine agreed to fill out the forms.
They finished at 9:30 p.m.
"It was hot. We were tired and thirsty," Westbrook said. "But we just like finishing things. We're like mothers who pick up after everybody else."
The two women live in Chester County and have been working this spring as enumerators, going door-to-door asking people who failed in April to return their 2010 census forms to participate.
They primarily worked out of the Rock Hill office but had been assigned to Columbia for the day because Rock Hill's work is complete, said Jan Smiley, the local census office manager in Rock Hill.
"If they hadn't knocked on the door, who knows what would have happened," Smiley said. "We're just really excited that this was a positive."
It's the second time both of the women have worked as census door-knockers. They share a love of history and genealogy and use past census reports in their research. The information they find is accurate and precise, and the women want to keep it that way, Westbrook said.
"It's an American tradition that the census can be counted on as well as counted," she said.
That's why they were so determined to stick around and hear what the man on the other side of the door was saying.
"I actually pray about finding people for the census," Westbrook said. "The Lord had a hand in not just getting the numbers but finding this man."