WHEN PAT McDonald was overpowered by smoke in a factory fire he “took his last breath and went to sleep”.

The fact he is alive to tell the story is down to the exceptional bravery of two colleagues.

With no regard for their own safety, Bartosz Pytko and Artur Biegala broke through an asbestos and cement wall at Oxford Plastics, Enstone, and dragged him to safety.

Fire chiefs said the 53-year-old would almost certainly have died were it not for their actions.

Now the pair have been honoured with rare Chief Fire Officer’s Commendation for their actions.

Mr McDonald said: “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here now. They didn’t have to come back for me but they did.”

About 80 firefighters tackled the May 11 blaze.

Mr McDonald, from Banbury, described the terrifying moment the factory was engulfed by fire, which started accidently from welding equipment.

The factory quality inspector said: “The smoke was overpowering. I went on the floor and went to the fire exit but couldn’t get out.

“I was coughing and spluttering because I couldn’t hold my breath. I took my last breath and went to sleep.”

Materials supervisor Mr Pytko, 26, said he didn’t stop to think when he went back for his colleague.

He said: “As soon as we realised Pat hadn’t come out with the rest of us we all just started smashing holes in the side of the building to locate him.

“Smoke had filled the building so we had to crawl along the floor. We didn’t stop to think about it.”

The employee of eight years added: “I was only thinking ‘where is my friend?’. I wanted to go and help, I wasn’t thinking about anything.”

Mr Biegala, 42, said his 16 years as a firefighter in Poland proved useful, adding: “It was normal for me, I remembered my job.

“I am happy he is alive.”

Jason Crapper, the incident commander at the blaze, said: “They genuinely put themselves at risk to save their colleague.

“I think it is very unlikely, given the scale of the fire and the type of building involved, that we would have been able to save his life.”

They were due to receive their awards last night at Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s annual Achievement Evening in Kidlington.

Michael Kennedy and his son Michael will also get the award for pulling a 67-year-old man from a burning car near Chipping Norton in December.

Chief Fire Officer David Etheridge told the Oxford Mail: “The awards are very rarely given out, only for extreme bravery or extreme acts of heroism.

“If you were to take these four individuals away, would we be dealing with two extra fatalities? In this case the answer is yes.”