On Saturday afternoon, United Hatzalah dispatch center sent out an urgent call to the Haifa area EMTs who were established as the Shabbat duty officers regarding the fire in the Carmelit subway system. The first responder who arrived on scene was Yishai Shachar. Shachar reported that he saw smoke emanating from the subway tunnels. Quickly recognizing that this could be a system wide situation that affected the entire subway line in numerous stations and that people could be injured in any of the stations, Shachar requested that the command center dispatch volunteers to all of the stations on the line, even though it was Shabbat.

United Hatzalah EMS responders talk with Fire and Rescue responders on the night after the November fires in Haifa. Illustration - Credit: Shmulik Hershkopf - United Hatzalah
United Hatzalah EMS responders talk with Fire and Rescue responders on the night after the November fires in Haifa. Illustration – Credit: Shmulik Hershkopf – United Hatzalah

“During emergencies that take place on Shabbat, United Hatzalah an EMS organization that strictly adheres to Jewish law (halacha), has set up a duty officer rotation that provides EMS response to those in need without causing more than a handful of their volunteers to break the laws of Shabbat in a given area,” explained Rabbi Naftali Halperin, Head of United Hatzalah’s Halacha Department. “We have a system that provides the duty officers with a number of options in terms of calling for additional responders depending on what the situation requires,” he added.

Naftali Rotenberg, head of the Carmel chapter of United Hatzalah reported that “United Hatzalah volunteers responded and deployed to all of the Carmelit stations according to the procedures outlined by the organization for operating on Shabbat.” The procedures include only arriving in private vehicles while walking home or if the distance is a problem then waiting for a non-Jewish driver to drive responders or their cars home, not making any extraneous calls on operational radios, only taking with them precisely what they need in order to treat patients as well as other procedures.    

“During the incident,” Rotenberg added, “One of our volunteers, Shlomo Blutnik, who responded to the Massada station was called upon by firefighters to the apartment of an elderly woman on the nearby Golomb street, who had suffered from smoke inhalation as a result of the tunnel fire. Blutnik immediately began treating the woman and monitored her vital signs until an ambulance arrived to evacuate her to the nearest hospital. Eli Guedj, another EMS volunteer treated a patient for shock at the Gan Ha’Em station. All of this took place under the guidance of a non-Jewish dispatch officer from the national headquarters.”

“All of the dispatch officers, both Jewish and Non-Jewish, receive specialized training with regards to responding to emergencies on Shabbat,” explained Rabbi Halperin. “All of them know exactly what they are allowed to do and not do, and what the volunteers are allowed to do and not do. That way we enable the command center to have a team of both Jews and non-Jews work together to limit the amount of desecration of the Shabbat during an emergency.”

Moshe Adler the chapter head of United Hatzalah in Haifa explained on Saturday night that “Our volunteers responded during the incident and provided EMS first response to those who needed it according to the protocols set forth by the organization which adheres to the strictest levels of Shabbat observance. All of the volunteers who are trained by our organization undergo special training regarding these protocols, and I am happy to say that our volunteers followed them to the letter. We are very happy that this incident ended quickly and with only very minor injuries.”