COMMUNITY-minded Herefordshire residents are needed across the county to provide a potentially life-saving service throughout rural areas.

West Midlands Ambulance Service is looking for volunteers to train to be Community First Responders - the first face many patients see after they call 999.

These are volunteers trained to use defibrillators and oxygen therapy equipment to help patients in their own communities while the ambulance is on the way.

"There are currently 140 active CFRs across Herefordshire and Worcestershire and we have a good scheme in Hereford.

"But we need people in rural areas to come forward and train up," said Mike Belcher, who is in charge of the CFR scheme.

"We want to provide equity of cover for every resident in the county to provide basic emergency care within a few minutes."

The ambulance service looks to get to life-threatening calls within eight minutes and government guidelines state this should happen in 75% of cases.

CFRs are dispatched to a patient at the same time as the ambulance but as they are likely to be closer, they can give treatment in the first vital minutes after an incident.

In some cases, this can mean the difference between life and death.

"All the evidence states the sooner we can get to a patient, the better it is for them," Mr Belcher said.

"A CFR's biggest asset is getting to the emergency itself because a lot of people can be in a state of shock and when someone walks through the door, it changes everything.

"People look to them and are very thankful someone is there."

The ambulance service is looking to train 400 volunteers across Herefordshire and Worcestershire in the next 18 months. Training also covers airway management and assessing a patient.

Rob Hodges is a CFR based in Hereford. "I believe it makes a great difference," he said.

Mr Hodges, who has been part of the scheme for the last 18 months, has been called to 12 incidents in the last year.

Although he is also a volunteer with St John Ambulance Service, volunteers need not have medical training. They should be over 18 with a clean driving licence but they do not need to make a specific time commitment.

Mr Belcher adds: "CFRs have made a significant difference to response times, which means far more people have early access to an emergency care provider.

"We are not asking for people's commitment but we are asking for their availability. CFRs will not be sent into hazardous situations like road traffic accidents."

Uniform and equipment are provided after training is completed and anyone interested in volunteering can call the ambulance service on 01743 273600 or email Companies which would like to sponsor kit, with the possibility of having their name displayed on equipment, are also sought.