Interview with Dovid Leff, Manager of the Beit Shemesh branch of United Hatzalah
Tell us how United Hatzalah was born?
United Hatzalah is a national organization dedicated to saving lives, with countless branches across the country. Our mission is to arrive at the scene of medical emergencies as soon as possible and provide the patient with appropriate medical help until the ambulance arrives.
United Hatzalah was founded 10 years ago with the onset of the Second Lebanese War. At the time there were many different rescue groups. Not all of them were properly equipped, and there was often lack of communication between them. We saw the need to unite all these groups under a single organization which would be dedicated to unifying the level of professionalism, training and efficiency of the disparate organizations throughout Israel.
The Beit Shemesh United Hatzalah branch is managed by Dovid Leff and his deputy Chaim Dreyfus. Baruch Geffen is the Halacha coordinator and works closely with Rav Ephraim Margalit and Rav Mordechai Goldstein.
Who is the driving force behind United Hatzalah?
The man who keeps the whole thing going is Eli Beer, a truly amazing person. He is the founder and president of United Hatzalah. The organization is directed by a very talented team, including the CEO, Moshe Teitelbaum from Ramat Beit Shemesh.
How large is United Hatzalah’s network?
United Hatzalah oversees approximately 3,000 volunteers in 40 locations across the country, although that number is constantly increasing as each day more and more people sign up to volunteer. In Beit Shemesh and the surrounding area we have around 80 volunteers. Each volunteer treats around 550 people a year.
In recent years there have been many places which, having seen United Hatzalah’s success, asked us to help them set up our model. Some of the international locations United Hatzalah operates in are Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and Jersey City.
What is the extent of United Hatzalah’s operations?
We operate a unit of 400 ambucycles. Our ambucycles are instrumental in helping us achieve a rapid response time of three minutes or less. We also have five ambutractors (an ambutractor is basically an ambulance in the form of a 4-wheel drive vehicle) which are extremely effective in accessing victims in hard-to-reach areas like mountain paths and desert roads. Additionally, United Hatzalah maintains a small rescue fleet on Lake Kinneret, which is known for being surprisingly dangerous.
From where does the organization receive funds for ambulances, ambucycles and medical equipment?
Our annual budget is approximately 40 million shekels. The majority of funds – about 70% – come from donors in chutz laaretz. The rest is donated by people in Eretz Yisrael. Now that Misrad Habriut has officially recognized United Hatzalah as a national emergency service provider we are working on getting government funding.
What training is required in order to be eligible to volunteer for United Hatzalah?
All volunteers must be certified EMTs. After an intensive training course, candidates need to pass practical training in 100 real-life emergency scenes. Finally, candidates must take an exam and have a personal interview before they enter active service with United Hatzalah. New volunteers are then equipped with a rescue bag and a mirs walkie-talkie with GPS technology which they keep nearby at all times.
How many calls does United Hatzalah receive a day?
Our dispatch center (1221) receives an average of 700 calls daily from around the country. On top of this, our volunteers are often called in to assist other emergency services like Magen David Adom.
How can the public take part in this mission to save lives?
An educated public can save lives themselves! It is vital for parents, teachers and babysitters to learn first aid and to take regular refresher courses. United Hatzalah, together with Nurofen, has launched a country-wide initiative called ‘Safe Family’ which offers a four hour first aid course completely free of charge. To find out about courses in your area, or to organize your own group of 25 people, call 052-761-6777.
Secondly, during an emergency, public bystanders must make sure not to crowd around the victim or interfere with emergency personnel in any way.
And of course, by donating to United Hatzalah and enabling us to acquire vital medical equipment, the public become true partners in our mission to save lives.
Why call United Hatzalah?
United Hatzalah has the largest network of first responders across the country. In the event of an emergency in which each second counts, we recommend dialling 1221 and our dispatcher will dispatch volunteers and an ambulance or mobile intensive care unit if necessary. In life-threatening situations it is vital to call 1221 or 101 to ensure a rapid response time.
What is the cost of calling an ambulance?
A call to United Hatzalah does not cost money at all.
The public should be advised that United Hatzalah has worked tirelessly to ensure that if an ambulance is called and is then determined to be unnecessary, the patient will not be charged. If an ambulance is required in a lot of cases the patient can receive a refund from Kupat Cholim.
You’ve been involved with United Hatzalah for years now. What have been the most inspiring and rewarding events you witnessed?
Having been involved in saving lives for the past 17 years, I’ve taken part in both challenging and joyous events. The most emotional for me is bringing a new life into the world and when a resuscitation attempt is successful.
There are two instances of successful resuscitation attempts which are particularly memorable for me and give me the strength to continue with this work. A few years ago, there was an incident in which a 12-year-old girl collapsed in the street in Ramat Beit Shemesh and lost consciousness. I was one of the first responders on the scene. We worked hard to revive her but the situation seemed hopeless. Eventually we managed to stabilize her and transport her to hospital. Today, when I see her around the neighborhood, completely healthy baruch Hashem, I feel grateful that I had a part in saving her life.
Another time, an older woman collapsed in the middle of her granddaughter’s wedding in a hall in the Beit Shemesh area. I was among a team of responders who managed to revive her. A few days later, when I visited her in the hospital, she was fully conscious and about to be discharged.
How can our readers find out more about United Hatzalah’s activities?
We have a very informative website: www.israelrescue.org. We are also on Facebook, and have both national and local Facebook pages where people can see what we’re up to on a daily basis.
IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY, DIAL 1221.
Find us on Facebook: UnitedHatzalahofIsrael