Gavy Friedson looks like your normal 23-year-old Israeli undergraduate student, but unlike other students, Friedson is allowed to answer his phone in class and even leave in a sprint if the call is important. And by important we don’t mean his girlfriend wants to see him, but that a life might actually depend on him.
Friedson is one of 1,700 responders at United Hatzalah, a non-profit organization that offers immediate response to medical emergencies by sending young volunteers on scooters who can get to emergency scenes before ambulances can.
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The volunteers, trained and certified as emergency medical technicians (EMT), carry around basic aid kits and are able to speed through traffic jams to assist patients in the often crucial first minutes.
Response within 2-4 minutes
The goal of Hatzalah (Hebrew for “Rescue”) is to provide a response within two to four minutes from the onset of an incident: providing vital first aid medical care; transmitting information to control centers and once the local ambulance service arrives, working alongside its crew to enable a swift transfer to hospital.
According to Eli Beer, founder and chief coordinator of Hatzalah, the incentive to start the organization was a gap in emergency medical services, notably the response time of medical teams to emergencies.
“Research has shown that the first minutes are crucial for a full recovery and the procedures needed there don’t require a great deal of expertise or equipment,” Beer tells NoCamels. “What’s needed within those crucial minutes is to stop hemorrhage, restore a heart beat, or open an airway.”
The secret to Hatzalah’s success, according to Beer, lies in the widespread geographical distribution of their first-responders. The volunteers are living, working and studying in virtually every town and community throughout Israel.
Every EMT has his own private car or is a member of the organization’s biker unit (Ambucycles). But most importantly, the medics receive alerts through the Hatzalah dispatch centers using the Israeli “Life-compass” technology that is installed on their mobile devices. Once a medical situation is inserted into the system, it automatically finds the appropriate responder according to the qualification (MD, paramedic, EMT), proximity and mobility of the responder.
“Our volunteers come from all sectors of Israeli society: Ultra-orthodox Jews, secular Jews, Israeli Arabs, and they all have one thing in common – they want to help save lives,” Beer says.
“You wouldn’t believe what situations I find myself running out of to respond to calls,” says Gavy Friedson. “Some people even develop certain resentment for what I do. Can you imagine being on a date and running off in the middle to answer a call?”
Friedson first started volunteering for Hatzalah at the age of fifteen. For him, the feeling of gratification is worth all of the effort. Recounting his most terrifying experience, he says: “About a year ago I received an alert about a building on fire and I immediately noticed it was my grandmother’s address. I sped over there and carried her out to safety.”
But the toughest part of the work, says Friedson, is that “you never actually know what happened to your patients once you hand them over to the ambulance.”
Eli Beer says that his organization is not trying to replace ambulances: “We only want to fill the gap between the time of an emergency call and the time the ambulance arrives.”
Beer, who last year was lauded as social entrepreneur at the World Economic Forum, says: “When we started this organization we had nothing, we would tap in to the emergency frequencies to find people close to us in need of medical assistance. Now we have 1,700 volunteers, almost 200 ambucycles, 1,500 cars, and 6 control centers spread across the country that receive and answer between 500-600 emergency calls – on our 1221 number – every day.”
While a two- to four-minute response time can already seem unfathomable, Beer’s goal is to reduce the record time even more. “Our goal is to shorten response time to 90 seconds,” he says. “If we had a total of 3,000 volunteers we could make it happen.”
He adds: “We can’t always beat the devil but we’re a growing opposition to his work.