How did I become a volunteer EMT with United Hatzalah? That is usually one of the best questions that you can ask anyone who volunteers with the national EMS organization. That is because hiding behind the decision to join the national network of volunteer EMS personnel, usually lies an incredible story.
3,200 EMTs, paramedics, and doctors volunteer their time to save lives under the auspices of United Hatzalah. They are each involved in their everyday lives until they receive an urgent dispatch notifying them about a medical emergency near their current location. In seconds, the volunteers drops what he or she is doing and focuses on one loan goal – providing medical response as fast as possible to the injured or sick person in need of their assistance. The volunteer arrives by their side, together with other volunteers, and provides them with free medical care until an ambulance can arrive to transport the patient to a hospital.
Every story is different, but they all seem to share a commonality, a catalyzing moment that pushed the volunteer to undergo a training course to become a volunteer EMT. The approximately 200-hour long course is followed by 100 hours of hands-on training until the volunteer can be certified to work in the field, unsupervised. I can easily call to mind the story of Assaf Hodrian who joined the organization after both of his parents drowned. He decided that from that moment on, he would dedicate his life to saving others. I also recall the story of Effy Feldman who witnessed a terror attack and knew from that from then on he would dedicate his life to helping anyone who needed medical assistance. Lazar Hyman is another volunteer whose car had flipped over during a motor vehicle accident. Everyone else involved in the accident was killed and he was severely injured. He waited a long time until help arrived. After the incident, he decided to become a volunteer to help make sure such situations don’t happen again.
I too have a story, or more accurately two stories, that brought me to decide to become a volunteer in an organization whose sole purpose is to save lives. The first story pushed me to become an EMT and the second story clarified to me that I had made the correct decision.
Over the course of my career as a journalist and a spokesperson, I arrived at many traumatic scenes. Throughout all of them, I was there as someone from the media, reporting on or about the situation. Approximately three years ago I began working as the head of PR and spokesperson for United Hatzalah. Before that, I was an external consultant for the organization for a few years. The chance for me to take an EMT training course arose, but it was difficult for me to commit myself to half a year of intense training. That all changed exactly two years ago at the end of January. I was walking from my house in Tel Aviv heading towards the port when I came to the intersection of Hayarkon and Yordei Hasira. I stopped at the crosswalk waiting for the light to change. All of a sudden, just off to my right, a man about my age spontaneously collapsed. He just fell and hit his head on the sidewalk. Together with other people who were standing at the light, we checked to see if he was conscious. There was no response from the fallen man. I punched 1221 into my cell phone and called the United Hatzalah dispatch center. In less than 90 seconds volunteer medics arrived at our location and treated the fallen man until an ambulance came to transport him to the hospital.
A few days after the incident, I signed up for an EMT course. I understood that if the situation happened again, I wanted to be able to do more to help, and not stand idly by. The course carried on and I learned the proper treatments to administer to people in different situations or medical emergencies. Three months after the course began, I took a trip with my wife Keren, and my daughter Rony, who was four months-old at the time. On the way back home, just as we were passing the Rokeach bridge, Keren screamed that Rony was not breathing. I immediately pulled over to the shoulder and I took my daughter out of the car seat. She was turning blue fast.
Looking back I am not sure how I kept such a cool head under the pressure. I worked fast. I checked to see if she had an obstruction in her airway, but I didn’t see anything. I turned her over on her stomach, just as we learned in the course, and I gave her five measured back slaps between her shoulders. I repeated the procedure twice more, and Rony began breathing once again. The color in her cheeks returned and my wife and I let out sighs of relief. Seemingly, Rony had spit up the food that she had been eating before the trip and had choked on it. Three months after the incident, I finished my course and I began volunteering in the field. When I am asked today, ‘so you are a volunteer EMT with United Hatzalah? Who do you save exactly?’, I answer that first and foremost we save those closest to us. We save our family members who need help, the neighbor next door, the people in our neighborhood, and whoever needs medical assistance when we happen to be nearby whether we are on our way to work or out for an evening. And me? I saved my own daughter. From my standpoint, the EMT course I took paid off long before it was even over.”
—- The author is the head of PR and spokesperson for United Hatzalah and a volunteer EMT in the Tel Aviv chapter of the organization.