Galen Flynn talks about how he helped save a man from drowning by tossing him a floatation device off the Huntington Beach Pier. (SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent / October 1, 2012)

Someday, if the situation arises, I hope I'll be like Galen Flynn.

I may not know if I'm capable of it until the moment comes.

Flynn, a Huntington Beach resident who lives a stone's throw from the pier, is not a brave man by trade. The 51-year-old makes tools for Boeing for a living and has no emergency training beyond a few CPR courses. With his long brown hair and sunglasses, he looks more like a beachcomber than a rescuer.

Now, he's helped to save a life. And though he says, in retrospect, that he wouldn't have handled any part of the situation differently, he hardly went in with a coherent plan.

"My dad always told me to pray to be in the right place at the right time," Flynn told me Monday morning next to Ruby's at the end of the Huntington Beach Pier, a location that he will probably never look at casually again.

A week before we met, Flynn and his neighbor were taking their ritual evening walk around the pier when they heard a voice moaning. Flynn, whose ears were plugged from a recent cold, took a moment to react, but he and his neighbor tracked the sound to the pier's concrete piling.

By the surface of the water, barely visible on a moonless night, a fully clothed man was clinging to the piling and calling for help. Flynn couldn't tell the man's weight, but with a rubber life ring just a few steps away, he vowed to use whatever strength he had.

The ring, incidentally, was placed outside Ruby's by the city's lifeguard division for use in emergency situations. Lt. Mike Baumgartner told me the rings occasionally get stolen, and he can't remember the last time a resident used one for its intended purpose, until last week.

Flynn hurled the ring off the pier, and the man let go of the piling and fit his body inside it. Then Flynn set his upper body to work, pulling the man alongside the pier and toward the lifeguard tower. The effort proved easy at first, but when the current kicked in, he felt as though he were towing a car. Eventually, the lifeguards took over and brought the man to paramedics on shore.

As responders filled the area, Flynn and his neighbor went back home. According to Flynn, they didn't see any officials motioning to them or wanting to ask them questions; according to Baumgartner, his group tried to find the Good Samaritans but couldn't locate them. Regardless, the lifeguards confirmed Tuesday that Flynn had left a message with them, and I'm sure they'll meet in due time.

So back to the main issue. How many of us would react the way Flynn did in a crisis situation? As I said, it's a nearly impossible question to answer. A few months ago, I took a CPR course in which the instructor drilled us for hours on how to handle an unconscious person — how to approach them, what orders to give bystanders, and so on.

After we went over the steps on paper, he arranged us in groups and told us to handle a simulated situation, with a classmate posing as the limp body on the floor. The instructor said, "Go!" and all of us stood and blinked dumbly, expecting someone else to intervene.

Did we all know what we were supposed to do? Yes, but in the space of a few hours, we had gotten used to carefully ordering the steps in our heads. Those methodical rules don't always translate into a cue for the body to spring into action.

But then, that was a simulation. Suppose the person lying on the carpet had really been an unconscious person in need of help. Would the urgency of the moment have carried us through?

In Flynn's case, it did just that. As his father said, he was in the right place at the right time. And in that place, at that time, he turned out to be the right man for the job.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.