The rescue played out on Nov. 23 in Pegomas, a community in southern France, after the nearby Siagne River overflowed its banks and washed into the streets.
The viral image shows firefighter Gilbert Baldicchi standing in a planter to avoid the churning brown floodwaters with baby Gabriel held tight in his arms. Baldicchi was one of several firefighters conducting a rescue at the home, and another member of the crew captured the photo.
“Bravery,” the fire department wrote in a Facebook post including the photo on Monday. “An image that gives meaning to our commitments. Extraordinary acts done by ordinary people.”
The photo generated more than 11,000 combined interactions from users who applauded the firefighter’s heroism.
Baldicchi downplayed his actions in an interview with news station France 3 on Thursday.
“It could have happened to anyone,” he said. “It happened to me, but dozens of men saved lives that night.”
Baldicchi was part of a crew of firefighters who were dispatched to help a family stranded in a home near the river. One of the firefighters actually fell overboard during the rescue, but he managed to catch a tree branch to avoid being swept away.
Firefighters eventually managed to bring a truck close to the house so they could conduct their rescue.
The child’s mother, Mery Zavaglia, says they were at the house to visit family when the flooding started last Saturday. The floodwaters quickly inundated the house, and she couldn’t get out to her car to get away.
The family had to wait several hours for the rescue.
Zavaglia told France 3 it was tremendously difficult to turn her child over to the firefighter for the rescue.
“I told myself … that I leave my child in the hands of a man I do not know,” she told the outlet.
Firefighters ultimately rescued Zavaglia, her grandparents, her partner and her child from the home.
Heavy rains have caused several deadly floods in southern France over the last month. One heavy downpour left two people dead last weekend, Reuters reports.
Zavaglia says she’s glad the firefighters showed up to help her on such a difficult day.
“I thank them from the bottom of my heart,” she said.
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