A teaching assistant from St Albans has been named ‘top responder’ by the Red Cross emergency response team in Hertfordshire.

Gail Richards, 46, who teaches Howe Dell Primary School in Hatfield, has been given the award just two years after joining the organisation as a volunteer.

She signed up in September 2013 and since then has attended more emergency callouts than any other volunteer, helping people cope with emergencies such as fires and evacuations across the county and around the clock.

Ms Richards said: “I was looking for a new challenge and wanted to find a way to help people here in the local community.

“This role is so varied, which keeps it really interesting.

“One day I might be supporting people who have lost everything in a house fire or setting up a rest centre for families evacuated from their houses due to flooding or a gas explosion.

“Another day I may find myself with people who have been freed form modern slavery or join an anti-human trafficking response.

“The type of crisis we response to and the people we meet are different all the time.”

Her first call out came only eight days after she completed her training.

She said: “I drove the ER vehicle round the M25 in the buffeting wind and rain to a block of flats which had lost its roof in the first of the winter storms of 2013.

“When I got there, I realised that I was now a key member of the team dealing with the emergency when the police lifted the cordon tape to allow me onto the incident site.

“I met up with the rest of the Red Cross team and we pulled together to open a rest centre where everyone forced out of their homes could come and shelter.”

Since then, Ms Richards has not looked back.

She added: “No two calls are the same but some are more memorable than others.

“I remember sitting on a pavement singing nursery rhymes to two children while their parents were interviewed by the fire investigation officer after a particularly devastating fire in Hatfield.”

Rachel Kirvan, service manager for emergency response in Hertfordshire, said Ms Richards is a dedicated, compassionate volunteer and a huge asset to the team.

She added: The fact that we have named her top responder is a testament to her commitment – she’s fantastic, and we need more people like her.

“We’d love to hear from new people who’d be interested in volunteering with us.

"We’re on the lookout for compassionate, enthusiastic, reliable people of all ages and circumstances - our youngest volunteer is 20 and the team includes full time city workers and retirees.”

Applications are welcome from people of all backgrounds over the age of 18, but volunteers should ideally live within 20 minutes’ drive of St Albans or Harlow.

To find out more, get in touch on BHEER@redcross.org.uk.