THE inspiration behind one of the North-East's oldest cricket clubs was named as The Northern Echo's Local Hero of 2002 15 years ago this week.

Norman Sturman picked up the overall award at the ceremony at Tall Trees Hotel, near Yarm, in front of 600 guests from the world of grass roots sport.

Norman, of Haughton Cricket Club in Darlington, was the judges' choice for investing a lifetime in playing sport as well as working tirelessly behind the scenes.

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The judges described him as "the embodiment of everything that is good about grass roots sport – commitment, passion, and a true gentleman".

Also this week, 15 years ago, the fire service staged a 48-hour national strike.

Schools and businesses took extra fire prevention precautions, while the Army and its fleet of ageing Green Goddesses stood in for crews.

On the night of November 14, troops were called into action at a farm in Tow Law, Weardale, to safeguard a farmhouse and herd of cattle when a nearby barn was engulfed by flames.

Two Green Goddesses were sent to the blaze from Crook and Bishop Auckland.

Farmer Dougie Foster was full of praise for the stand-in crews, who had about seven weeks' fire training, though he felt the fire brigade would have arrived sooner.

He said: "The soldiers have certainly done their best to cope with the fire and cannot be faulted in terms of effort and willingness."

Mr Foster added: "It would have been devastating to lose them because I've only had them a year. I was wiped out twice during the foot-and-mouth outbreak. That was an horrific time and I really didn't need this."

Elsewhere, a company was fined £39,000 for the "shoddy" work that led to disaster.

Three hundred homes were evacuated and 19,000 put at risk after a junior worker used the wrong piece of machinery and caused a devastating chemical blaze at the Distillex plant in North Shields, North Tyneside, earlier that year.

It took more than 300 firefighters 30 hours to make the scene completely safe, resulting in the closure of the Tyne Tunnel and the Metro rail system.

At the height of the blaze, flames shot 150ft in the air, and fire and thick black smoke could be seen from as far away as Sunderland, more than ten miles distant.

Judge Peter Bullock ordered the firm to pay a £39,000 fine and £7,975 costs.

He said: "What was a peaceful industrial area became a war zone, with flying containers and drums of highly flammable liquid raining down."

Finally, farmers battled it out at the first tractor pull competition held in Barnard Castle.

Local farmers tested out their tractors' pulling power at the weekend event, held at Streatlam Farm. The tractors were pulling as much as 75 tonnes and vehicles used in the challenge included a 30hp TBO Ferguson and a 300hp Case Magnum.

The overall winner was John Carrick in his Massey Ferguson 200hp, with three full pulls, with David Adams and Angus Stoke coming joint second, both on two pulls.

*Next week: Looking back on the day Sir Bobby Robson picked up his knighthood at Buckingham Palace.