BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — A Hernando County school resource deputy is being praised for helping a pre-kindergarten student during a choking incident.

“Absolutely, he’s a hero,” said Tonya Thomas, the child’s mother.

Deputy Christopher Downey said he was going about his normal tasks Tuesday morning at Eastside Elementary School.

“Something told me I just needed to walk through the cafeteria again,” Downey said.

That’s when he said a pre-K teacher came toward him carrying Jayton Thomas, 3. She said he was choking and needed help. Downey said Jayton didn’t appear to be breathing or making any sounds.

When asked whether he was scared in that moment, Downey said his past experience kicked in, including 27 years in the military and 20 years as a volunteer firefighter.

“I can’t say enough about (the) training that I was provided in the military, that I was provided through the fire service, and which I was provided through the Sheriff’s Office,” Downey said. “In times like that, we always talk about the more times you practice doing what it is, when it comes time to use those skills, you don’t think about it — you just do it.”

Downey administered five back blows to Jayton. When that didn’t work, he performed the Heimlich maneuver. Finally, Jayton, who is autistic and nonverbal, made sounds that showed he was able to breathe.

“He’s doing absolutely fine. He doesn’t seem traumatized by the incident or anything. He was happy to come back to school today,” Thomas said of her son.

Thomas said she’s extremely thankful for Downey.

“I don’t consider myself a hero,” Downey said. “I’ve met people that I consider heroes. I am fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to serve the community, to work in a school, and to have been provided the training that gave me the necessary skills that, when the time arose, to take action without having to think.”

Even though the incident was scary, Thomas said she actually feels more secure sending her son to school.

“Just to know that he’s safe and you have people looking out for him and you don’t have to worry about those kind of things whenever he’s not with you is very, very important,” she said.