Two men have been rewarded for their heroism after they risked their own lives to save another.

Former lifeboatman Robert Billich was on a paddle steamer cruise on the River Medway in Kent with his wife Jennie when three-year-old Craig Oliphant slipped through railings at the edge of the boat and fell overboard.

Jennie, 63, said: "The boy's older brother came running from the front of the boat, screaming that his brother had fallen.

"I turned round to Robert but he had already gone. He jumped straight in, still wearing his shoes and gold watch. I looked in the water and he had swam about 15 or 20 metres and had managed to get hold of the boy, who'd been face down in the water.

"The boy's father was wearing a baby sling and it took him a minute before he could swim out and reach them with a lifebuoy."

The captain of the ship reversed the boat and was able to throw out a line to the rescue party. Craig was taken to hospital but was uninjured apart from a scratch on his head.

His family travelled from their home in St Leonards, near Hastings, to see Robert, 58, presented with a Humane Society Award by the Mayor of Eastbourne Colin Belsey. It is the second time the plant operator, who lives in Upperton Road in Eastbourne, has saved a life. In 1980 he rescued a boy from drowning on Eastbourne beach.

Jennie, a sheltered housing scheme manager, said: "He's a very reluctant hero and afterwards just said 'it was nothing', but it really was. He was the only one who dived in.

"The boat had got quite a way ahead by the time the captain realised what was happening and if Robert hadn't reacted so quickly I don't think the boy's father could have reached him in time."

Banking manager Steven Cornish, 27, has also been commended by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service for pulling a semi-conscious man from a burning car.

Steven was driving back to his home in Norman's Court, Shoreham, when a Volkswagen Polo veered onto the wrong side of the road and crashed head-on into a coach in front of him.

Steven, who works for HSBC, said: "I could see the driver wasn't moving and the car bonnet was alight, so I dialled 999 and ran over to help.

"I couldn't get into the driver's side because the car had spun around and was pushed up against the verge, so I climbed over the passenger side.

"I was shouting at him to get out but he said he couldn't move, so I undid his seatbelt and started to pull him out.

"There were flames coming through the windscreen where it was broken and I was worried I wasn't going to get him out in time."

A female motorist helped Steven lift the passenger, who had fallen into a diabetic coma at the wheel, out of the car before it was engulfed in flames.

He then ran back along the line of traffic and urged people to move their cars back to a safe distance, while preventing the disorientated driver from returning to his burning car.

He said: "I wasn't panicked at the time but afterwards I started thinking what would have happened if the petrol tank had gone up."

The driver recovered fully and later tracked down his rescuer and sent him a card and bottle of wine to thank him.