On Sunday, January 5, 2014, Serge Gerardin was traveling on a bus to an assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses near Paris, France, when he witnessed a horrific accident. “A car hit a concrete barrier protecting a bridge and flew into the air,” he recounts. “The car then hit the bridge, burst into flames, and fell on its roof.”

Serge has been a fireman for more than 40 years. As a captain in the fire brigade, his reaction was immediate. He recalls: “Although we were traveling on the opposite side of the highway, I asked the driver to stop the coach, and I ran back to the burning wreck.” Serge heard screams of “Save me! Save me!” He says: “I was wearing a suit and tie, and I had no safety equipment. But those screams told me that people could still be saved!”

Circling the car, Serge met a dazed passenger and led him to safety. “He told me that there were two others in the car,” said Serge. “By this time, a number of cars had stopped. But because of the intense heat and flames, people were unable to approach.”

Several truck drivers came forward with fire extinguishers. At Serge’s direction they emptied their extinguishers into the vehicle, temporarily putting out the flames. Somehow the driver had been trapped underneath the car. So Serge and others who had stopped lifted the car and dragged the driver to safety.

“At that point,” said Serge, “the fire ignited with a whoosh!” But another passenger was still hanging upside down from his seat belt. Another off-duty fireman then arrived, dressed in biking leathers. “I explained that the car was likely about to explode,” says Serge, “so we decided to drag the man out by his arms, which we did.” Less than a minute later, the car exploded.

When the fire brigade and medics arrived, they took charge of the victims and put out the fire. Serge received first-aid treatment for cuts and burns to his hands. As he boarded the coach to the assembly, several men ran up to Serge and thanked him.

Serge is grateful that he was there to help. “I felt a sense of responsibility before Jehovah, my God, for those lives. What brings me satisfaction is that I could help save those people.”