First responder tells of his passion for helping others

Tim Thirst of the Stalham Ambulance First Responders.

Tim Thirst of the Stalham and Smallburgh Ambulance First Responders. - Credit: Supplied by Stalham Ambulance First Responders

Helping others in some of the most difficult moments of their lives has become a passion for a volunteer ambulance first responder from north Norfolk. 

Tim Thirst is the co-ordinator and longest-serving member of the Stalham and Smallburgh Ambulance First Responders, having joined the group in 2008.

Dr Thirst, 68, who lives in East Ruston, said first responders' tasks ranged from giving reassurance to lifesaving procedures. 

Tim Thirst from Stalham Ambulance First Responders. Picture: Supplied by Tim Thirst

Tim Thirst from Stalham Ambulance First Responders. Picture: Supplied by Tim Thirst - Credit: Archant

He said: "What you get out of it is helping people. If it's something that's not so immediately serious, there is still often a big sigh of relief because someone is there with them.

"So it's giving them the reassurance that someone is there to help. We also do CPR if there is a cardiac arrest, and deal with strokes. We can be there pretty quickly with a defibrillator."  


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Dr Thirst said that like many people, he did not know about ambulance first responders before he joined them. 

He said: "I was looking to do first-aid at work training. But when I heard about the ambulance first responders I thought, 'this is good, this is how you can help your community'."

Members of the Stalham Ambulance First Responders carrying out a CPR demonstration.

Members of the Stalham Ambulance First Responders carrying out a CPR demonstration. - Credit: Tim Thirst of the Stalham Ambulance First Responders.

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Dr Thirst's dedication to the role has been recognised with two Ambulance Chief Officer's Commendations for outstanding patient care.

He was also praised in 2018 when he won a Voluntary Services to a Big Society Project from North Norfolk District Council. 

Dr Thirst said the first responders drove their own vehicles on call-outs, and received no allowances or expenses for fuel or anything else.

During the pandemic, volunteers including Mr thirst were trained to assist with driving and crewing ambulances because the ambulance service was so stretched. 

Dr Thirst said he enjoyed volunteering with a range of others who came from different parts of society. 

Tim Thirst from Stalham and Smallburgh Ambulance First Responders won a Voluntary Services to a Big

Tim Thirst from Stalham and Smallburgh Ambulance First Responders won a Voluntary Services to a Big Society Project, presented by Cllr John Lee, at North Norfolk District Council's Big Society Awards. Picture: NNDC - Credit: Archant

He said: "The responders in our group have a diverse range of backgrounds and ages which gel together to make a fantastic team. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone.

"A number of our group were shielding, mainly due to family members being in the 'at risk' category.

"I am proud that in 2020 during the most difficult of times, our first responders still managed to volunteer for an extraordinary 11,751 operational hours, an increase on the 2019 record. What a fantastic achievement."

Dr Thirst said first responders were particularly important in rural areas because unlike living in a city where an ambulance station is perhaps only a mile away, it may be 10 miles away in the countryside.

This means there can be a delay of perhaps 20 minutes before an ambulance arrives.

With calls prioritised to the most life threatening, suffering a fall may mean a wait of some hours.

However, a first responder using specialist equipment could have the patient safely up and back to a safe environment within 20 minutes.

The Stalham and Smallburgh group was formed in 2005, and is one of the largest in the East of England Ambulance Service with 20 first responders either active or in training. 

It was awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service - the group MBE - in 2016.

After they have passed their initial training, first responders become members of a local group where they undertake regular training and upskilling.

These groups are responsible for raising the money necessary to purchase the medical kit that their first responders carry - the Stalham group have raised more than £100,000 themselves to pay for their equipment.

Defibrillators, pulse oximeters, blood pressure machines and special lifting chairs can all add up to over £7,000 needed to equip one first responder.

Some volunteers, including Dr Thirst, have also been carrying out Covid-19 vaccinations at thier local hubs. 

- To nominate a community hero, email community.heroes@archant.co.uk and tell us who you are nominating and why.

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