FIREFIGHTERS who battled to save the Glasgow School of Art when a major blaze engulfed much of the building have been awarded the institution's highest accolade.

The art school has handed The Newbery Medal to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for their skill and bravery when disaster struck last month.

The medal, named after Francis Newbery who commissioned Mackintosh to design the world-famous art school building, is awarded each year to the highest performing student across the Schools of Architecture, Design and Fine Art.

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However, it is the first time an honorary Newbery Medal has been presented. During a ceremony yesterday the medal was awarded to the firemen who managed to save 90 per cent of the building's structure and many priceless Mackintosh artefacts.

The inscription on the medal reads: "Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, 23rd May 2014 — Guardians of The Mackintosh."

Professor Tom Inns, ­director of Glasgow School of Art, said: "Every year at our graduation ceremony we award one Newbery Medal to the highest performing student at The Glasgow School of Art.

"This year for the very first time we will award an Honorary Newbery Medal. This is to honour the bravest act for which The Glasgow School of Art will always be thankful."

Chief Officer Alasdair Hay added: "To be awarded the Newbery Medal is a great honour for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and I would like to thank Glasgow School of Art for their kind recognition of our crews.

"Much has been said about the tremendous efforts, courage and professionalism of the firefighters who prevented the loss of the Mackintosh. On behalf of the service I would also like to pay tribute to GSA staff and students for the manner in which they have responded to what has clearly been a tremendously difficult time.

"When the fire started they safely evacuated the building and then worked with our crews to establish an effective salvage plan that saved everything that could possibly be saved. In the weeks since they have shown incredible warmth and support to our firefighters."

The 2014 Newbery Medal was awarded to Alex Kuusik, a fine art graduate. Mr Kuusik lost his entire installation, which included paintings based on Hans Holbein's Dance of Death woodcuts, in the fire.

Students were putting the final touches to their end-of-year projects when a blaze broke out on May 23 in the basement of the building.