Pittsburghers gear up to help first responders in Israel
Local volunteers train to help Israel in event of emergency

Pittsburghers gear up to help first responders in Israel

The volunteers learned basic first aid, trauma and search and rescue skills so they would be ready if they were needed in Israel in the event of an emergency.

Volunteers practiced using a fire extinguisher at the Allegheny County Emergency Services Fire Academy Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
Volunteers practiced using a fire extinguisher at the Allegheny County Emergency Services Fire Academy Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)

A group of Pittsburghers gathered to learn basic first aid, trauma and search and rescue skills at the Allegheny County Emergency Services Fire Academy. While the volunteers were encouraged to put those skills into use in their own communities, the goal of the training was to put them in action in Israel.

Spending the day learning how to properly tie a tourniquet, handle the pressure of a fire hose and carry out a search and rescue mission using only tools they’d find at a neighbor’s house, about 35 locals participated in the training session Sunday to learn to assist first responders in Israel in the case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster or rocket attack.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Parternship2Gether collaborated with the Israeli city of Karmiel and the Misgav region to bring the program to the city for the first time Sunday. The Emergency Volunteers Project, a nonprofit organization that led the training, partners with cities around the United States to train volunteers to assist Israeli first responders, who can then increase their efforts on the front lines of disaster.

“Israel is a very small country and we are suffering from a lack of manpower in terms of emergency services,” said Yoni Blitz, the director of training for EVP. “We can put [the volunteers] in time of emergency wherever they are needed. … It’s not about faith. It’s about brotherhood.”

Inbar Levy, right, a search and rescue officer in the Israel Defense Forces, showed volunteers the proper way to conduct a search and rescue mission. Pictured above, they are practicing using a lift to remove a concrete slab. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
The organization was founded in 2009 to create a “bridge” between professionals from the United States and professionals from Israel, including firefighters, doctors, nurses and paramedics. The group also trains community members, who do not need any prior experience as a first responder, to deliver water, help people in shelters maintain positivity or assist in gathering information about the emergency situation, among other tasks.

The weekend volunteers were split into three groups to focus on specific skills, but they were all trained in the basics of first aid, trauma, fire drills and search and rescue. The training culminated in a mass casualty drill, with community members scattered around a construction site acting out scenarios given to them on a card. Medical volunteers rescued, triaged and treated the patients using tools that they would likely find lying around a community.

At the end of the drill, Scott Goldstein, the U.S. director of training for Emergency Volunteers Project, told participants it was his intention to stress them out.

“If I put you guys in the community, there is no organization,” he said.

Although the practical skills of responding to an emergency situation were a big part of the training, organizers and participants alike said another component was learning how Israelis handle such situations and how the Israeli government prepares them. For example, a group of medical volunteers said the emergency room in Israel is set up to move faster, getting people to their place of treatment quicker and preventing them from returning to the emergency room. It is designed for a mass casualty, they said.

Volunteers practiced using a fire hose as part of the training program Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
On a broader scale, the training focused on the resiliency and self-sufficiency of Israeli residents who feel they must be constantly prepared for an emergency situation, whether because of the danger neighboring countries could pose or the possibility of natural disasters, from earthquakes to tsunamis.

Inbar Levy, a search and rescue officer with the Home Front Command Force in Israel, said part of her duty in the Israel Defense Forces was to train and teach civilians to be volunteers in an emergency situation, similar to the training she helped lead in Pittsburgh.

“We help them to help themselves,” she said.

Kim Salzman, the director of Israel and Overseas Operations at the Federation, agreed. When she lived in Israel, she said, she would often go online to research how she could protect herself and her loved ones, and what the Israeli government suggested they do if a situation were to arise.

“At the end of the day, the citizens know they have to take care of themselves,” she said. “The founding of the State of Israel came out of necessity and not being able to rely on anyone but ourselves. It’s part of who we are.”

Each participant left the training with a certificate from the Emergency Volunteers Project and the sentiment they were prepared to be deployed but hoped never to use their newfound skills.

“You’ll always have to be at the ready,” said Sandi Lando Welch, a volunteer. “It’s frightening to realize what we’re living in one day, people live in every minute.” PJC

Lauren Rosenblatt can be reached at lrosenblatt@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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