Two St Albans heroes, who risked their lives to carry three young wheelchair users from a blazing ambulance minibus seconds before it was engulfed in flames, are to receive a top national life saving honour.

Driver Alan Jones, 72, of Windmill Avenue, and assistant Christine Flavin, 67, of Watling View, will be awarded Royal Humane Society testimonials on vellum, which will be personally approved and signed by the society’s president, Princess Alexandra.

The awards follow a dramatic rescue on the A602 Park Way, Hitchin, in September last year. 

David Owe from Hitchin and Clayton Pearce from Hatfield will also receive awards.

Dick Wilkinson, society secretary, said: "Between them, these four heroes averted what could have ended up in a fatal tragedy in an exhausting rescue. 

"Two of the three rescued youths had to be carried from the burning minibus in their heavy wheelchairs.

"And as the rescuers ignored the flames the fire was getting worse. Within seconds of them all getting clear the vehicle became a fireball. All four risked their lives to save these vulnerable youths, and did so without hesitation or thought for their own safety.

"They each suffered smoke inhalation in what was a particularly courageous rescue and these awards are richly deserved.

"This incident could so easily have ended in a multiple fatality with rescuers and those they were trying to rescue being killed."

He said Mr Jones was driving the private ambulance minibus, which was fitted with a wheelchair tail lift, carrying three young adults in wheel chairs. The wheelchairs were secured to the floor with ratchet straps.

Mr Wilkinson continued: "Smoke started to appear from under the bonnet and then from under the dashboard, so he pulled over to investigate.

"Mr Pearce and Mr Owen, who were travelling together, stopped to help.

"It was clear there was a fire in the engine compartment and, opening the bonnet, they discharged three dry powder extinguishers onto the engine but with no apparent effect.

"As they worked to remove the passengers, Mr Jones and his assistant Ms Flavin had first to release the ratchet straps and then manoeuvre the wheelchairs to the rear to use the tail lift.  

"All the chairs are electrically powered but, due to the urgency and the confined space they were manhandled.

"The first passenger was removed fairly easily using the tail lift, but fire damage then rendered it inoperable.

"As a result, the last two had to be lifted around three inches up before they could be lowered to the ground. Each chair weighs 75kg without its user so, by the time all were free, the inside of the vehicle was a mass of flames. By the time the fire and rescue services arrived, the vehicle was completely gutted."

A date has not yet been fixed for presenting the awards, made following a recommendation from Hertfordshire police.