A TEAM of volunteers have been giving their time to save lives in Swindon for the last two years.

Neighbourhood First Respon-ders celebrated two years of looking after people waiting for ambulances to arrive.

First responders are sent to give first aid to people in their area suffering from heart attacks, breathing difficulties or fits.

In the past two years, the neighbourhood responders based at St John Ambulance's headquarters on Rodbourne Road, have been on call for 12,363 hours and responded to 24 calls.

Whenever the Great Western Ambulance Service receive a category A emergency call, first responders in the neighbourhood are sent out at the same time.

Responder Steve Smith, 20, said: "We are called at the same time as the ambulance.

"If we are there before the ambulance it can make a big difference to saving someone's life."

Research shows that heart attack victims' chances of survival are reduced by 10 per cent for every minute they have to wait for medical help.

Garreth Saunders, who trains the responders for the ambulance service, said: "We make sure all the volunteers are trained properly and go through the selection process.

"People sometimes ask why a member of the public has been sent instead of medical staff, but if an ambulance is going to take two or three minutes, the chances of survival are decreasing the whole time.

"If it takes four minutes then their chance of survival could be very little.

"In reality these people are volunteers willing to give up their own time to benefit the community and once properly trained are an essential resource.

"Two years ago we had 17 responders in Wiltshire and now we have 40."

Mr Saunders said the lives of three Swindon patients had been saved by quick action from the responders.

Responders are given three days of training, covering basic life support, oxygen therapy and defibrillation techniques.

Responder Andy Tye, 50, who organised the second anniversary celebration, at the St John Ambulance headquarters in Rodbourne Road, said: "Altogether the 12 responders here have spent more than 12,000 hours on call. It is a massive achievement."

Student nurse and trainee responder Nathan Bailey, 20, said: "I have been called out to people who have collapsed from chest pains.

"I had to administer oxygen and use the defibrillator. It is quite scary having someone's life in you hands, but we are well equipped for the job."

Becky Day, 20, who is also a student nurse, said: "My nurse's training really helps and this is the perfect chance to get to use my skills, although with exams coming up it can be hard finding the time to fit volunteering in."

St John fundraising co-ordinator Helen Pearson said: "These guys have worked really hard and dedicated so much of their time that they really deserve thanks for it."