Avi Marcus is married with five children and lives in Petach Tikva, a city located to the northwest of Tel Aviv. He is the Chief Paramedic for United Hatzalah, Israel’s national volunteer community-based EMS services organization. One of the main parts of Marcus’s job is to oversee the quality of medical care given by the more than 4,000 volunteers across the organization. He can’t be everywhere at once, so he oversees some 25 regional paramedics each of whom is responsible to supervise and maintain the high level of quality care given by the volunteers across the country.
In addition, Marcus is tasked with 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, of which there are currently 53 in session, but I also 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,” Marcus said.
On top of that, he is also a volunteer emergency first responder. “The system in Israel works differently than it does in North America or England. In our organization, all 4,000 volunteers across the country are always on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. An emergency call can come at any time – while a person is working, while they are relaxing at home, while they are bathing their kids, or sitting down at the dinner table. Often, these calls come while one is traveling on the roads. In my case, they constantly occur when I am driving from meeting to meeting or training session to training session. I travel a lot and put a lot of mileage on my car as I use it to go out and visit volunteers all over the country and join them on training calls to observe the level of their knowledge and check that all of their equipment is in order. These are surprise visits in order to encourage our volunteers to maintain their high levels of training and efficiency,” Marcus added.
From the newest trainee to the President of the organization, all of the members of United Hatzalah answer the call and it is Marcus’s job to make sure the level of care that they provide is the best it can be.
Each year the organization runs mandatory refresher courses that Marcus is in charge of. These courses aim at placing an operational emphasis on specific topics which field reports have shown need to be addressed. “Last year the topics addressed were how to best take an oral history, approaching a patient and equipment retraining. This year the focus will be more on birthing, managing a scene and how to operate within a group of first responders. An emphasis will also be placed on utilizing the intervention of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit as this too is an area that we felt is important to bring awareness to,” Marcus added.
Last year Marcus performed more than 1,000 incident checks in the field. In order to achieve this, he traveled more than 40,000 miles back and forth across the country. While performing these spot checks Marcus also answers emergencies often taking trainees with him in order to continue their on-scene incident training.
Marcus recalled two incidents that continue to drive him and help give him the push he needs to pound the pavement and go on call after call. “I was on my way home from a training session a few months ago and there was an emergency nearby. I was alerted by the organization’s phone application and radio dispatch. I arrived at the location of the incident in less than 60 seconds. The call came in as a seizure, however, when I arrived I saw that the person was unconscious and gasping. The situation required full CPR so I immediately alerted the dispatch center, attached a defibrillator, and gave the man medication as more volunteers joined me. The nearest ambulance was 10 minutes out. So we were alone performing CPR on this man who had collapsed while working out at a gym. Thankfully the CPR was successful and the person is alive and well today. This was a clear message to me that what I am doing, and the equipment I have, makes a difference and saves lives,” Marcus said.
In a second story, Marcus related what hit him close to home and stayed with him throughout his years as a first responder. “It was the first call that I ever went on as a United Hatzalah volunteer and it took place a number of years ago. There was a young girl who was unconscious at home. I arrived in almost no time and performed a full CPR on her. Thankfully it was a successful CPR. What really made this incident real for me, was that I have a daughter who is the exact same age as this girl. I kept thinking to myself how this could have been her. With every patient I treat, part of me thinks about the family and friends of this person who is receiving my help and I devote everything I have to saving that person and helping not only them, but their friends, families, and loved ones. It is something I teach my students to think about as well.”
Thankfully that young girl is alive and well today as are many others who owe their lives to the hard work of our volunteers and people like Avi Marcus who give of themselves continually to make sure that each and every one of the more than 4,000 volunteers across the country are performing their EMS duties with incredible care and professionalism.
“The network of volunteers that we have saves lives. It is as simple as that. In a country where we place a volunteer on each street corner and in every community, a volunteer who knows how to save lives and has the equipment they need to do so, that is a country that will succeed in saving as many people as possible. That is our goal and I personally believe that it is a must for any city or country that values the lives of its citizens. Our volunteers know the community in which they live, they know where people are located and this enables them to cut down immensely on EMS response time as people don’t have to wait for ambulances to begin receiving care. In the time it takes an ambulance to arrive we already there saving lives,” Marcus declared.
On a personal note, Marcus also said that his volunteering and work has had a positive impact on his family. “My son is now an EMR because he sees his father, a paramedic, rushing out to emergencies and helping people. He wants to be like me and help people and I am encouraging that.”
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