Stanningley Fire Station watch commander Mark Hemingway continued to scout the area off-duty for 77-year-old Gordon Bentley once he had finished work at 9am on Thursday after searching with colleagues the night before.
The search, which had included the help of a police helicopter, ended when Mr Hemingway spotted Mr Bentley near Thornbury Barracks in Pudsey – seven miles from the Gomersal care home he had left.
Dad-of-one Mr Hemingway, 45, said: “It was a bit surreal. I pulled up and wound down the window. I shouted ‘Gordon’. He came over to the car immediately. I said ‘Are you lost?’ He said ‘Yes’. He was very calm.
“I still had my uniform on, which goes a long way for getting people to trust you.
“I said, ‘I’m going to take you home. You’ll be safe now’.”
Mr Hemingway called the missing man’s family and police turned up minutes later to collect him alongside them.
The firefighter said: “It was an emotional time. Once everything had been sorted I slipped away and left the family to have their time with him.
“I went from a feeling of joy and elation and thinking ‘Thank God he’s safe’, then feeling a bit silly in the car, an outpouring of emotion.”
Mr Hemingway, of Holmfirth, praised the efforts of the many people who took to the streets to find Mr Bentley after an appeal was shared on social media. He said: “It’s a little bit overwhelming because I would hope that if that was my father people would do the same.
“It isn’t about me. It was about the unbelievable responses of people on social media and the selflessness.
“It was relatively easy for me [as a firefighter] to get that done but those people were at home, leaving their wives and children to go into the night.”