THE NORTH’S first “tri-responders” – staff trained to respond for all three emergency services – started work today (Monday, December 7), in just the second project of its kind anywhere in the country.

Laura Birbeck and Laman Warburton are Durham Police PCSOs, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service retained firefighters and North East Ambulance Service “first responders”.

Based at Stanhope police station, they will be ready to respond to emergencies of all kinds across rural Weardale.

The pair have been hired on a two-year pilot project, backed with £80,000 from the Home Office’s Police Innovation Fund and about £50,000 from the local 999 services, in the hope they will reach the scene of rural emergencies faster than vehicles based further afield.

Gary Ridley, Durham Police’s assistant chief officer, stressed the project was on top of existing services, rather than replacing them.

“These roles are truly innovative and represent a step change in the way that community safety is delivered across the emergency services,” he added.

Inspector Kevin Tuck, who covers the 200 square miles of Weardale, said: “We hear a lot about services being pulled away from rural areas. This is a chance to try something different.”

It is thought there is just one other tri-responder anywhere in the country – Andrew Hichens, in Cornwall.

Mr Warburton, 23, previously worked for the fire service as a fire prevention officer, while Ms Birbeck, 26, was a care assistant in a nursing home.

Living in Stanhope herself and having been a retained firefighter there for 18 months, she understands the challenges facing the dale.

“I think this is going to make a big difference in the community, especially in rural areas,” she said.

If successful, the tri-responder model could be expanded across more rural areas of County Durham and beyond.

Sarah Nattrass, from the fire service, said: “We look forward to analysing the results of this latest innovative collaboration.”

Gareth Campbell, from the ambulance service, said: “We anticipate that this will add to the invaluable efforts of existing Community First Responders and reaffirm our commitment to improving the response to patients in rural areas.”