Why I Volunteer as an EMT in Judea and Samaria
by Raphael Poch
In Israel, there are many options for a person to volunteer and help others. A few of these options even provide the training, equipment and opportunity to help people when they most need it — during a medical emergency.
But only one organization, at least that I know of, fully trains, equips and dispatches a volunteer as part of an all-volunteer first response medical organization that provides service to all Israelis nationwide, regardless of race, gender or religion. That organization is United Hatzalah.
I’m a volunteer first responder — a certified EMT who can provide emergency medical care when needed, and a Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit responder, who can provide psychological first aid and emotional stabilization in cases of severe emotional trauma.
I also live in Judea and Samaria.
For those who have been reading the news recently, there has been a lot of back and forth between Israel’s national ambulance organization and the government, regarding the appropriation of budgets. This debate over funding initially led the ambulance organization to officially start cutting back on services to Judea and Samaria. And this affected me personally, perhaps more than others.
As a first responder who lives in this region — the biblical heartland, where my parents, friends and fellow first-responders often live — I was enraged that such a decision could be allowed to come to pass.
Personally, I don’t care about budgets — and I don’t care too much for politics either. While I can agree with the ambulance service that they should receive the money owed to them, I cannot fathom the decision to cancel ambulance or medical services to anyone, for any reason. Saying that “we haven’t received our allocated budget” simply isn’t a good enough reason to endanger people’s lives.
I am happy to say that the situation with the national ambulance service has been worked out in the past few days, and services have resumed — for now. But the threat always looms over the heads of the residents of Judea and Samaria. Why? Because this same ambulance service has threatened to cut services on a yearly basis, dating back to 2010. This year, for a short time, at least, they made good on that threat.
That’s just one reason why I don’t volunteer for them. I would have been ashamed to wear their vest this past week. Instead, I volunteer for United Hatzalah, Israel’s volunteer national first response organization. All of our services are free of charge, and they are provided by highly-trained and skilled volunteers. We will never cut back on our services to the biblical heartland, nor any other region or group of people in Israel. Rather than use threats and cutbacks, we aim to empower communities all over the country to help each other.
The goal of the more than 4,000 United Hatzalah volunteers across Israel, is to arrive at the scene of a medical emergency before the ambulance — and provide medical treatment in those first few minutes, while a patient waits for an ambulance.
We achieve this goal, with an incredibly fast response time of less than 3 minutes nationwide. We do this by being dispatched to the emergencies that are in close proximity to where we are located, and by always being on call. Many lives have been saved due to our fast response times, and that is what this field of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is all about.
It is not about budgets or finances. Saving a life should just be about saving a life.
Instead of bickering about finances and cutting services to Judea and Samaria, United Hatzalah opened a new chapter in the region. With 24 new volunteers, the unit serves the Har Hevron region in Judea, which desperately needs it.
That is how we show our true colors. And volunteering to help others, in my opinion, is the truest sense of the Zionist mission in today’s day and age.
To the 24 new United Hatzalah EMS volunteers in Har Hevron — and all of the other EMS volunteers out there, regardless of organizational affiliation –I salute you all. My wish is that we can put the politics and the budgets aside, in order to fulfill our mission, and save lives.
Raphael Poch is a volunteer responder and international media spokesperson for United Hatzalah.