But it seems as though Anderson wasn't new to the role of rescuer.
The Daily News tracked down Steve Clark, a former co-worker from Vail resort in Colorado years ago, who was not surprised after hearing the story. Anderson had been a ski patrol rescue worker there for years before moving to California.
"He did so many great things here, always helping people," Clark told Daily News. "He has always been a hero."
Anderson rescued two-year-old Bridgette after she slipped of the gangplank of the Peking ship, plunging about 20 feet into the murky waterway.
Seconds later, Anderson jumped in after her, emptying his pockets and taking off his shoes while running down the pier. With the help of an unidentified French tourist, the little girl was pulled to safety.
People organized a chain to get everyone out of the water safely. Witnesses were surprised by Anderson's readiness and precision.
"The father was so fast," Long Island photographer Eric Stringer, who got exclusive first photos of the rescue, told Gothamist.
Clark maintains that Anderson's reaction was not out of character.
"I am shocked but not surprised," Clark told Daily News. "Dave would not do anything else."
The heroic dad has so far declined to comment about the incident.