About three weeks ago, Moshe Dahan was visiting a close friend and fellow ambucycle medic in Modi’in. The pair were chatting in a local park when they received an urgent alert from United Hatzalah Command Center notifying them that a baby girl was choking a few blocks away. With no time to lose, the duo immediately jumped up, hopped on their ambucycles and zoomed over to the nearby location. They arrived on scene within just 60 seconds of receiving the call!
The worried father, who was clutching his 10-month-old daughter in his arms, saw the United Hatzalah medics approaching and began racing towards them, crying and shouting for help. The little girl’s complexion had turned bluish as she struggled to breathe. Moshe quickly took the infant, turned her face down, and administered measured back blows. The baby spewed out some liquids and seemed to breathe easier. Moshe repeated the procedure and this time the child discharged a thick stream of fluids, clearing her airway.
The careful medic suctioned out any remaining fluids and informed the father that his child was out of danger. The young father was still overcome with panic from the frightening incident; Moshe and his colleague focused on calming and reassuring the anxious man. Taking his vital signs, they detected irregularities in his blood sugar levels due to the overwhelming stress. Moshe spoke softly with the worried father, offering a sugary drink together with an extra dose of warmth and empathy.
When the Mobile Intensive Care Unit (MICU) arrived on scene just 3 minutes later, the ambulance driver was literally amazed “How did you get here so quickly?!” he said. All that remained was to transport the little girl and her father to the hospital for further observation and care. After helping the ambulance team load up the patients, Moshe and his friend headed back to their park bench to continue, what they hoped would be a quiet evening.
“This is what we call a park bench shift or Safsal in Hebrew. When two or more volunteers get together to buff calls and respond to any emergencies in their vicinity in teams,” Dahan said. “You get to hang out with good friends, build rapport with fellow EMS personnel, share stories, help educate one another with life-saving techniques and discuss the proper procedures for patients all while having some snacks of a soda. It is something that has become somewhat of a custom shared by all volunteer EMS personnel throughout Israel. This instance was a classic example of a Mishmeret Safsal. We thankfully don’t have that many calls in Hashmonaim, so I come to visit my friend in Modi’in and we save lives together. It works out great for us, but better for the patients who receive help from alert volunteers who come together to help in an emergency situation. It is one of the best traditions of EMTs in Israel.”
Scene of choking in Modi’in
“The idea of a Mishmeret Safsal began when Elad Nissinholtz met up with another volunteer EMT and did exactly this in Tel Aviv nine years ago,” said Raphael Poch International Media Spokesperson for United Hatzalah and a volunteer EMT with the organization.
“I used to head out to Tel Aviv whenever I had free time,” explained Nissinholtz in a special interview to describe what a Mishmeret Safsal meant. “I picked a strategic spot in the city where I could respond to as wide an area as possible and I got together with another responder to buff calls while sitting on a park bench. Whenever we got a call, we raced over and provided treatment. When the call was over we headed back to our bench, which was near an all-night snack store. We ate a bit to stay focused and energized, got to know each other better, sometimes we even learned Torah while waiting for the next call.”
A park bench with medical equipment
“While the original Safsal took place nine years ago, it is something that many of our volunteers still do today. Because the volunteers are at the ready at any moment, they arrive at emergencies extremely quickly and are able to save more lives, just like Dahan did in Modi’in.”
Nissinholtz explained another positive aspect of this style of EMS response. “Another positive outcome from this type of volunteer shift work is that it leads to a lot of experiences being shared between old and new volunteers, thereby helping to continue the on-scene training of the new volunteers who can gain from the experience of their more seasoned fellows. The volunteers can also ask questions from one another and learn what to do differently in scenes just like the one they came back from. It is a way of passing knowledge and tradition from one generation of volunteers to another all while enjoying some friendly company and saving lives.”
“I’m not as young as I used to be,” said Nissinholtz, “so I only head out about once in 10 days to do a Mishmeret Safsal. But there is a new generation now and they want to go out and help people, so that is a way in which they can set aside a few hours to do a sort-of-shift as volunteers. Ambulance shifts involve a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork and often require a lot more transporting than treating in the field. They also force a person to be on the shift for eight hours at a time. When doing a Mishmeret Safsal, the volunteers head out simply to help and treat other people and they can set whatever hours are convenient for them. The paperwork is minimal and can now be done via a specialized app on a smartphone later rather than requiring the forms to be filled out immediately. This frees up the volunteers to go on a lot more calls and treat more people, thereby gaining more experience in a shift. Having done many of both types, I can honestly say that there are definitely times that I much prefer a Mishmeret Safsal. It is a great tool and one that I am happy to have initiated,” said Nissinholtz.