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On the Frontline: EMT Recounts Harrowing Journey From Saving Lives to Surviving a Direct Rocket Attack
Moshe Weitzman from Ashdod was one of the first EMTs to respond to the Hamas massacres in southern Israel on October 7th and drove one of the first civilian ambulances into the then Hamas-controlled areas. On Thursday, October 12th, he was injured when a rocket exploded right next to him. From his hospital bed, Weitzman who serves as a volunteer EMT with United Hatzalah, recounted the incredible life-saving rescues and efforts he had been part of in the past week and a half.
“Although I live in Ashdod, I was at my parents’ house in Bnei Brak for the holiday of Simchat Torah when the war began. Early in the morning, there was a rocket siren in Bnei Brak. During every escalation in the south, I am among the first responders from our organization to go down to the Gaza periphery to reinforce our EMS response. I understood this was a serious escalation and called dispatch to see what was needed. They told me to go to Petah Tikvah to take an ambulance and start driving south.”
Weitzman left immediately and was one of the first EMS personnel to arrive in the Gaza Periphery. ”By 8:30 A.M. I was at the entrance to Sderot. While I was driving a civilian motioned for me to stop. He told me ‘There is a high-ranking officer here who was shot in the leg’. I took out a bed from the ambulance, put a tourniquet on him, and started transporting him to Barzilai Hospital.”
On the way to the hospital, Weitzman found another United Hatzalah volunteer who was transporting someone injured to the hospital in his private vehicle. After dropping the wounded at the hospital, the second volunteer joined Weitzman on the ambulance and they returned to Sderot, going back and forth transporting injured civilians and security personnel.
“The sheer quantity of injured people was just something I had never been exposed to. In one instance, I had three patients in the ambulance, one with gunshot injuries in the head who was lying on the bed, and two others who had sustained gunshot wounds in the legs who were sitting on the bench of the ambulance. While I was driving, the second volunteer staffing the ambulance cared for the seriously injured patient, and the other patients had to help as well.”
“On the way to the hospital, we saw two intensive care ambulances waiting at the Netivot intersection, their teams were afraid to go further south. We handed off the patients to them and prepared to go back to transport additional patients from the war zone. The other ambulance teams told me ‘There are active shooters and gunfire there, don’t go in’. I answered ‘I know, but I’m going in. I’m saving lives and Jewish tradition teaches us that people who are busy with a positive commandment (mitzvah) do not get hurt. I’m going in.”
Later on near the Shaar HaNegev intersection, a Yamam fighter signaled to the ambulance team to move away to the side of the road. “I immediately did so and after a second I received a burst of gunfire right over my head. I approached the Yamam fighters, they had two casualties each with shrapnel in their stomachs. Seeing their conditions, I said to the Yamam paramedic, ‘Listen, we’re in a war zone, there’s no pulse, no breathing, there’s not much we can do, they should be pronounced dead.’ He said ‘I can’t do it’, so I said ‘I understand, it’s your friends, I’ll do it in your place.’ I called dispatch and received a medical consultation to officially pronounce and as I did so, the fighters burst into tears while continuing to shoot at terrorists”.
From there Weitzman and his partner continued to the location of the now-infamous party in Re’im. “It is difficult to even think again about the sights we saw there. The quantity of dead people. The abuse against the bodies. There was not much for us to do there. It was horrible.”
Later on, the volunteers were sent to Kibbutz Beeri where there were reports of numerous injuries. “When I arrived there I connected with the IDF medical teams. The medical officer told me ‘I need dozens of ambulances’ so I updated the dispatch. There were fighters from all of the elite units. A bit later the medical officer updated me about 5 wounded soldiers that were being brought to the ambulances. One was in critical condition and needed to be evacuated by a 669 helicopter. Altogether, until Sunday at 6:30 P.M. in the evening when the medical officer told me there were no more terrorists in the kibbutz, over 80 wounded IDF fighters passed through my hands with various degrees of injury including some who had to be pronounced dead.”
On Monday afternoon, Weitzman himself was treated for emotional shock by United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit at the Command and Control Center that had been set up in the south by the organization. “I had a nervous breakdown from all the horrors I had witnessed, I realized I needed to stop, I wasn’t able to continue treating people and passed the baton to the other teams that had come to reinforce our response in the south.”
The story didn’t end there for Weitzman. After a few days respite from doing ambulance shifts in the Gaza Periphery, Weitzman went back to Sderot, this time to help a family member. He would come back via ambulance, but this time as a patient.
“On Thursday morning I went to help a family member in Sderot and there was a siren,” Weitzman recounted. “I had no time to reach a shelter and lay on the ground while I shielded myself with my hands on my head. A missile fell a meter and a half away from me and I was struck by shrapnel. I had shrapnel in my leg and in my shoulder. I was transported by ambulance back to Barzilai Hospital and I underwent surgery. I have to undergo a second operation at a later date, but for now, I am stable. I was told that I would need six months of rehabilitation to get back to having full range of motion in my limbs. An important thing that I want to emphasize is there are people who film the Iron Dome intercepting rockets, they think it’s a joke. It’s not a joke, my car is wrecked, I’m injured, and if I hadn’t been lying on the floor with my hands on my head, I would be dead right now. The Home Front Command safety instructions save lives.”