AFTER 20 years of saving lives and helping people, an incredible group of volunteer first responders have been commended for their efforts.

A landmark group of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) volunteers are celebrating two decades of service.

Thorncombe First Responders became the first rural Community First Responder (CFR) group in the country when they launched in April 1998.

In the past two decades the group has provided round-the-clock emergency care for those in need. They have attended thousands of incidents, saving many lives.

About 100 people, including SWASFT volunteers and staff, attended a celebration in the village on Sunday, where West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin congratulated the group. The volunteers were presented with a shield in recognition of the achievement.

David Toman, of SWASFT, said: “The team bring a huge benefit to their local community. They have been instrumental in saving lives and helping to promote the recovery of those who were injured or ill over the past 20 years. I am very proud to manage them and help to support them in their role. Special thanks to Melanie Pierce-Butler, the team leader.”

CFRs are vital volunteers who are trained by SWASFT to attend certain types of emergency calls within the area they live 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.

In 2003 the Thorncombe group was given a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for voluntary services to the community. Former village postmaster Rosemary Walley, who set up the group, was awarded an MBE. In 2016 they won the SWASFT CFR Dorset Group Award for showing outstanding commitment to their community.

Last year, the team received additional training to enable them to provide an enhanced response when people have falls. Utilising the expertise of clinicians in the 999 control hub, the team are able to safely mobilise a patient and allow them to remain at home - helping to reduce the pressure on both SWASFT and the NHS as a whole.

Richard Buckley, SWASFT acting responder manager, said: “We are extremely grateful to this amazing group of people who give their time freely to support the care that we can offer our patients. Sometimes this can be by performing lifesaving skills and defibrillation and other times simply their reassurance and time.

“I am proud to work with and help to support this incredible group of people, each day I am reminded of just how special they are.”

CFRs respond to particular types of medical emergencies where it is essential for the patient to receive immediate lifesaving care. These include conditions such as cardiac arrest, chest pain, breathing difficulties, unconscious patients, fitting and stroke.