Becoming a new EMT — for Sderot, for the fallen, for the future.

I’ve often wondered what possesses a person to become a volunteer EMT. To give up over 180 hours of their life in training and then upon graduation to take another 100 training calls of undetermined amount of time and then to commit to being on call 24/7. The idea of taking so much of one’s leisure time, which is scant already and dedicating it to saving other people’s lives without receiving anything in return, defies logic.

And yet people continually make this choice to become volunteer medics and spend their time saving the lives of others. They commit themselves to missing time off from work, time away from their families, missing Shabbat dinners and the birthday parties of their children, in order to go out and save strangers whom they have never met before and will likely not meet again. This is the story of all of the volunteer medics around the country, and it is due to these individuals that so many others are alive and well today. It is because of them that many people whom they have rescued can spend quality time with their own families and go to their jobs.

Some of the 50 new volunteer EMTs for United Hatzalah in sderot
Some of the 50 new volunteer EMTs for United Hatzalah in Sderot

United Hatzalah volunteer medics responded to over 260,000 calls last year and saved countless lives in doing so. With an additional 500-600 medics aiming to join the ranks this coming year in various training programs throughout the country, the question remains, why do they do it?

The answer of course is different for each and every volunteer. Some wish to help other, while some wish to save lives in order to honor those who have passed away, while some have had loved-ones saved by the very same EMS organization that they wish to join. Some have even been saved themselves. But each and every one of them is setting out to become a selfless hero in their own right, continually giving of themselves in order to save the lives of others.

Last week, a new group of 50 United Hatzalah EMTs graduated from their training course in Sderot and took part in a Mass Casualty Training Exercise or (MCI) in partnership with the IDF.  The training incident drilled the EMTs on how to respond to a rocket impact on a local school in Sderot causing tens of casualties, a scenario that unfortunately is all too realistic. The new inductees are part of the “guarding the south and Gaza periphery” initiative that United Hatzalah has undertaken as part of its Team Daniel efforts.

Team Daniel was founded by United Hatzalah in honor of Daniel Tragerman who was killed in the town of Nahal Oz when he was hit by a Hamas fired mortar during Operation Protective Edge. The new medics will be working in and around Sderot as well as covering the area from Sderot to Be’er Sheva as part of the Team Daniel initiative.

United Hatzalah EMTs and IDF medics work together during the MCI drill last week in Sderot
United Hatzalah EMTs and IDF medics work together during the MCI drill last week in Sderot

During the MCI, the EMTs and soldiers practiced treatment for a wide range of injuries resulting from the pretend rocket explosion and shrapnel hits. Honor-roll students from the school portrayed the injured victims, and the exercise was held in order to train both groups of emergency response personnel in case a similar scenario occurs in real life.

With the culmination of the exercise, the United Hatzalah EMTs graduated their training course and were honored by a visit from the Founder and President of United Hatzalah Eli Beer and other dignitaries of the organization and the city of Sderot during their graduation ceremony. Eli Beer said during the ceremony, “I am overwhelmed with emotion just standing here in the presence of volunteer EMTs who are joining the exemplary team that is carrying on the name of Daniel Tragerman. Team Daniel is honoring Daniel’s memory by continuing to save lives in his honor. I know that the Tragerman family is proud of all of the activities of the volunteers of Team Daniel and are standing behind all of the initiative that you have shown.”

One of the main supporters of Team Daniel is Jeff Aeder, a real estate investor from Chicago who represented the Chicago community, which has invested heavily in creating Team Daniel and supporting its work. Aeder was presented with the husk of a Qassam rocket that had been painted gold symbolizing the Team’s goal of turning war-time tragedy into life-saving work. Aeder said at the event, “I want to thank Eli Beer and everyone here today for allowing us to do this. Team Daniel allows us to show our appreciation for Israel and to be part of an organization that is revolutionizing the way that people deal with people. Thank you for letting us be a part of that.”

Of the 50 new volunteer medics who will now begin to provide emergency medical services for the understaffed and remote areas of the Gaza periphery and Sderot, the reasons for becoming a medic may be more clear than for those wishing to join in other places. However, each has their own story and their own reason for joining. By honoring the memory of Daniel Tragerman, they are dedicating their life saving efforts to honoring the life of Daniel that was so tragically almost two years ago. Honoring the memory of a fallen loved one by building the for the future of others has been a time honored tradition in Israel and among the Jewish people the world over. It is quite possibly, the greatest thing to dedicate one’s time and energy towards.

About the Author
Raphael Poch is a Canadian-Israeli playwright, producer, director, actor and journalist. He is the International Media Spokesperson for United Hatzalah and runs the First City Improv Troupe.
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