My name is Avi Marcus. I am married with five children and live in Petach Tikva, a city located to the northwest of Tel Aviv. I am the chief paramedic for United Hatzalah, Israel’s national volunteer community-based EMS services. I have many responsibilities as part of my day-to-day job but probably the most important one is making sure that all of the new EMS trainees are trained to the highest medical standards that they can be. I not only oversee all of the training courses across the country, currently, 30 are in session, but I teach parts of them myself to provide an extra emphasis on certain things that I know many times volunteers in the field forget – small pointers that can save lives.
On top of that, I too volunteer as an emergency first responder. The system here works differently than it does in North America or England. In our organization, all 3,200 volunteers across the country are always on call 24/7/365. An emergency can call can come at any time – when you are working, when you are relaxing at home, when you are bathing your kids, or sitting down at the dinner table. Often, these calls come on the roads, when we are busy driving from place to place. In my case it often occurs when I am driving from meeting to meeting or training session to training session.
From the newest trainee to the President of the organization we all answer the call. Everyone involved works together in the field, and the closest responders to the scene are notified about the incident and respond. We also usually relay back to the dispatch center whether we need additional backup or whether they can cancel the other volunteer responders who are on their way.
About three weeks ago, I got a call that sticks out in my mind as one that really represents the teamwork that United Hatzalah volunteers are known for.
I was driving on my way to teach an EMT class when I received an emergency call alerting me that a construction worker in the nearby city of Bnei Brak fell 8 meters and impaled himself on protruding metal rods. I have a registered emergency vehicle, so I flick on my siren and lights and race to the location. Red light after red light stand in my way but I am able to get through them quickly and make it to the scene in less than three minutes.
I grab my medical kit from the trunk of the car and begin to run towards the building. Workers shout that the victim is on the third floor. I take the stairs two or three at a time. I get on scene and I see the unfortunate construction worker, conscious and writhing in pain. The injured man shrieks in agony and his panicked co-workers look around trying to figure out how to help him.
I staunch his bleeding, bandage what I can, and begin the delicate task of extricating the man from the metal rods. I am joined moments later by other volunteer EMTs from United Hatzalah who also arrive before the Fire Department. We call over metal workers from the construction site at we cover the victim to protect him from the cutting of the bars. Firefighters show up and they join our efforts. After a few moments of tense work, we succeed at extricating and sedating the worker, whose life changed entirely just a few moments before. The man is sedated. The team of EMTs put him on a backboard. We secure him and make sure that his injury won’t open again during transport. We fasten the straps and begin the arduous task of carrying the man into a construction hauler. We are lowered together, more than 3 stories, to the waiting ambulance that has also just arrived.
After the patient is secured in the ambulance, I look at my team. Some of them I know well, others only by name or face. Some of them are veterans and have been with us for a few years. We have met on previous calls. Some of them are new and I have seen them in recent training classes. But we are here. We came. We answered the call. We saved another life.
I head back to my car and the other volunteers head back to their cars and ambucycles that they arrived on. We are a team unified by a single purpose. We don’t share common hobbies, or common religious or political views. We don’t even share a common station or department. We are unified by a purpose – to save lives as fast possible. Our singular commitment that we all made, to drop whatever it is that we are doing and to rush out to help others, binds us together. The same commitment that I am on my way to teach others about.