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United Hatzalah Overcoming the EMS challenges of the Negev Desert

Jerusalem, April 17th, – In the land that Moses walked and the Jews wandered for some of their 40 years, the land in which Ben Gurion said that Israel will be tested, Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization, United Hatzalah is making waves and saving lives daily.

The Negev desert has long been one of Israel’s most beautiful and expansive areas. With large swaths of land that have been left unsettled, and lengthy distances between townships, it has remained one of the most natural and unsettled areas in Israel. The above characteristics while allowing for a pastoral setting also pose a challenge to EMS responders who often need to respond to emergencies in far away and difficult to reach locations. The emergency response is estimated at up to 30 minutes in certain remote locales. The rate slows the further out into the periphery one is and often, hikers, travellers and tourists have to wait for an emergency response team to be sent from the closest large city. The time spent in getting the response team to the location can often cost vital minutes and have a serious impact on the health or chance of survival for the injured person in need of medical care.

The United Hatzalah EMS service, which prides itself on maintaining a response time of less than three minutes across the country, is rising to the challenge posed by the geography and the population density issues of the Negev.

Currently, United Hatzalah’s Negev Chapter is holding a course, which when gradated will more than double the amount of EMS volunteers in the region. The chapter has boundaries that extend from outside Be’er Sheva in the north, to outside of Ashkelon in the west and all the way down to the Kushi Ramon rest stop 101 kilometers north of Eilat in the south. The chapter’s responsibilities include providing EMS service for the Gaza periphery townships, an area that is particularly hard hit during numerous conflicts with Hamas and other Palestinian elements in the strip. The chapter currently boasts 150 volunteers in the largest geographic region in Israel. Aside from being vast in terms of space, the area sees its fair share of medical emergencies, many of which occur on the highways and hiking trails away from populated areas.   

Upon the graduation of the current course, that number will increase to 250 volunteers who will share the workload, lower response times and help save lives in the region. The added volunteers will additionally bring more awareness to the importance of having EMS first responders spread throughout the region. “Our goal and our dream is to see at least one volunteer in every city, township, kibbutz and village in the Negev,” explained Yisrael Rubinstein who heads the Negev chapter of United Hatzalah. “The addition of the new volunteer EMTs will help us take steps toward reaching that goal as well as the goal of cutting down EMS response time dramatically in the entire region. We are always aiming to provide faster and better emergency care to the people who live here, so that we can save more lives.”

Rubinstein said that United Hatzalah with the current number of volunteers often arrives more than 20 minutes prior to other emergency response teams. Following the completion of the course and the addition of the new EMTs the hope is to cut the current response time in half.

The organization also has other plans for development in the area. “The townships in the Gaza periphery have been in need of quick EMS response for some time now and United Hatzalah has begun to initiate a project in which the military-security-coordinator of each township will become an EMT and be responsible for EMS first response in their township. The coordinators, (known as Ravshatzim in Hebrew)  are being trained by United Hatzalah to be EMTs. Many have already finished courses while new courses are being opened for those not yet trained to participate in,” Rubinstein said.

One of the projects that has been undertaken to help bring medical assistance to the area is the project of Team Daniel. Team Daniel consists of a number of philanthropists from Chicago who have created a campaign to train and outfit yet another 100 United Hatzalah EMTs for the Eshkol region bringing the total number of EMS volunteers for the Negev up even further. The group got its name from Daniel Tragerman a four year old who was killed by a Hamas mortar attack on August 22nd 2014 at the tail end of Operation Protective Edge. The event occurred shortly after the group of philanthropists visited the area.

The Eshkol Region, which lies southwest of the gaza border  falls within the jurisdiction of the Negev chapter. United Hatzalah via the additional 100 volunteers will provide training, protection and medical aid to those in the Eshkol Region. The volunteers, all of whom live in the area, understand the urgency and need to protect those within their own community. In a region where residents can wait between 30 minutes to an hour for emergency assistance, the United Hatzalah program creates a beacon of hope after a time of so much sadness.

The chapter that is directly south of the Negev chapter is the Eilat chapter. In Eilat there are currently 14 members and the hope is to increase that number to 40 in the coming year in order to provide a faster response service to the residents of the city. The local United Hatzalah chapter plans to open an EMT training course after the Pesach holiday.

“One of the challenges in the city is that people don’t quite know what United Hatzalah is here in the city yet. It hasn’t quite sunk in and so people don’t come to us for training,” said Eilat chapter head Yossi Goslan. “We work very closely with the staff of Magen David Adom (MDA) in the city and the surrounding Kibbutzim.” Through the two organization’s cooperative efforts there is sufficient coverage but United Hatzalah in Eilat is trying to cut down response time even more. “We are adding more medics this year after the course finishes, and the organization has given us the right gear to do what we need to do.”   

The Eilat chapter is responsible for calls within the city and extending their reach as far north as the Kushi Rimon truck stop some 101 km north of Eilat. The organization has supplied the Eilat chapter with the specialized 400 series of ambucycles which are more durable and built for high speed travel over long distances, thus allowing their riders to arrive at the scene of distant emergencies much faster and safer, which is essential when responding to calls at a great distance.  

“The chapter here is like most other chapters of United Hatzalah. It is a solid group of people and contains a mix of secular and religious Jews who work together. The idea of working hand in hand in the Negev is something that we all have to do in order to provide the quickest and most comprehensive EMS response system that we can. Whether it is with each other or with MDA, we work hard and we work together to save lives,” Goslan concluded.