A home help who rescued a 71-year-old grandmother from a burning house said she did not think twice before putting her own life at risk.
Sandra Cowan, 40, has been hailed a hero after she pulled the pensioner from the property in Newtownards, Co Down, which had become engulfed with thick black smoke.
"I opened the front door and the smoke came out and just hit right up the face," said Ms Cowan, a community care worker with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. "The whole house was filled with smoke. I never hesitated at all."
Maureen Dorrian, a grandmother of three, was just minutes from death, according to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service. She spent more than a month in hospital, including three days in the intensive care unit, recovering from the effects of inhaling smoke.
Ms Cowan said: "I looked on the bathroom floor and the kitchen floor because they are the first two you can see when you come in to make sure Maureen wasn't lying there. I just started to shout out her name a few times and she responded to me so I knew she was still conscious then.
"I called 999 for the fire brigade and ambulance and then came back in and got Maureen out of bed. I just put my arms underneath her and she was able to shuffle out with me holding on to her.
"She was quite disorientated. She was covered in smoke - all I could see was the whites of her eyes. She was cold and shivery so I put my coat around her," added Ms Cowan.
The fire broke out accidentally in the kitchen of the house in Glenbrook Road, Newtownards. Mrs Dorrian had tried to escape but was beaten back by the intense heat and dense smoke. The house was completely gutted by the fire.
Ms Cowan who has eight years' experience as a care worker is trained for all types of emergencies but said she never expected to have to deal with a fire.
She said: "You never think it is going to happen but we are always sent on courses just to keep it fresh on your mind. It just shows that people really do need us coming into their homes."