The Sephardic Heritage Museum Explores THE LIFE AND ESCAPE of the JEWS OF SYRIA

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By: Dave Gordon

A woman suddenly fell on the floor in her house on Ocean Avenue one Shabbat morning. No one knew why she couldn’t move.

Immediately Hatzalah was called. Baruch Hashem, a Hatzalah volunteer responded within one minute and administered CPR. Within two more minutes, seven support medics and an
ambulance arrived.

Today, the woman is alive and well, thanks to the quick response time of Hatzalah. This is just one example of the ten thousand calls made to Hatzalah Emergency services of the Jersey Shore over the past fifteen years.

Before Hatzalah opened a branch in this area response times for general emergency services varied greatly. Some patients reported waiting thirty minutes before any medical help arrived. In life or death situations, it can be seconds that count. That was one of the many reasons why Hatzalah was formed in the first place
(see sidebar).

Hatzalah responders include paramedics, doctors, physician assistants, and nurses. Vehicles are equipped with oxygen, a trauma supply bag, and an automated external defibrillator. They are also stocked with life support equipment, such as monitors, intubation kits, and supplies for administration of first-line drugs. Every year about $350,000 is budgeted in the Jersey Shore organization alone.

Who Calls Hatzalah?

No two situations are alike.

“There’s no such thing as a typical call. Every call is different,” notes Ronald Shamah, one of the coordinators at the Hatzalah of the Jersey Shore.

“We treat every call the same, as if it’s a life or death situation, until we get there. You never know what you are getting into, until you walk through the door. We’ve received calls that came over simply as, ‘My husband fell over and I can’t pick him up.’
When we get there, the guy is in full cardiac arrest and we’re doing CPR on demand.”

The calls have run the gamut from minor sprains to potentially fatal strokes, to auto accidents, child births, and every imaginable medical situation. If it is anything that requires more intensive care, such as cardiac situations, respiratory difficulty, allergic reactions, or severe trauma, then paramedics are
also dispatched.

Why Was the Jersey Shore Hatzalah Founded?

While Flatbush Hatzalah is almost fifty years old, the Jersey Shore organization is just a decade and a half old. According to Avi Aboud,the head of Hatzalah of the Jersey Shore, and a former member of New York Hatzalah, it was imperative to have services in his area, and so he began the journey of creating his area’s organization.

It made it all the more pressing when Aboud saw the local First Aid Squad was restricted by borders. For example, Jersey Shore volunteers could not go into Ocean Township. These kinds of “border disputes,” as well as overburdened first aid squads, meant much-needed service was not being provided.

After a year anda half of development, Hatzalah Emergency Medical Services (EMS) of the Jersey Shore began responding to calls in March, 2003. Currently, the coverage region includes Long Branch, Ocean Township, West Long Branch, Eatontown, parts of City Falls, Deal, some parts of Asbury, and Bradley Beach. Forty trained volunteer emergency medical technicians are year-round active members, who carry two-way radios. Dispatchers take calls every day of the year, at any hour. The average response time is between two and three minutes.

How Does One Become a Hatzalah Volunteer?

It is not so easy to become a Hatzalah volunteer. Potential volunteers must complete an initial application, and then are carefully screened by coordinators and the rabbinical board. If approved, they go on to complete emergency medical training (expenses are covered by Hatzalah) that takes about seven months.

After completion of the training course, potential volunteers are not necessarily going to be accepted. They are required to do an apprenticeship, where they tag along on calls with a certified volunteer. Depending on their experience and readiness, the volunteer-in-training’s next step is to complete the “backup process.” He will not be able to be a first responder, but will be allowed can assiston a call. When the organization gets the sense that the potential volunteer has what it takes, and is comfortable with patient care, he can then be accepted.

There is also intense training for those who want to be ambulance drivers. They must learn how to safely drive emergency vehicles. Once someone is approved to be a driver, he can drive as well as go on calls as a medical responder.

Going the Extra Mile

During the summer there is increased demand for emergency services at the Jersey Shore, due to the influx of visitors. Often Hatzalah from New York will be on call to assist in certain situations, Aboud relates. They are part of what is called the “Summer Division.”

It also works in reverse: For cancer patients or those with special needs whose records are in New York hospitals, Hatzalah will take them to the facility where they have previously been treated.

In some cases, Hatzalah will also offer follow up transport, to rehab, or to a patient’s home.

“We’ll go a little bit more than just medical care,” notes Aboud.

Indeed, what also distinguishes Hatzalah from 911, says Aboud, is that Hatzalah volunteers consider themselves integral to the entire healing process. That’s because they are often servicing friends, neighbors, relatives, or others who are “like family.”

Aboud notes, “When you are treating family, care is different. We hold your hand until you are comfortable and secure.”

Family Support is Key

In terms of their own families, Hatzalah volunteers make great sacrifices each day in order to sanctify life. Holy days, of course, are no exception when it comes to emergency calls.

“We never know when we are going to leave our families for sedarim.We never know, during a Shabbat meal, when the radio will go off for someone not breathing or having chest pains. We run out,” Aboud explains. All volunteers have learned the halachotneeded for their work on the yom tovimand Shabbat. They need to know how to operate vehicles and radios, and how to treat patients with certain machinery. One example is a “shinui”(change) in the regular routine, Aboud says, such as clipping the radio to a different hip on Shabbat, in honor of Shabbat. “We always have to do whatever it takes to save a life on Shabbat or on a holy day,” he says.

On fast days, especially Yom Kippur, unique problems arise, such as diabetic emergencies, medical problems arising for people who did not take their medications, or people who have gotten ill when their bodies were not able to handle the fast. As always, Hatzalah is at the ready.

Fortunately, Hatzalah members’ families have been extremely understanding about these interruptions on holy days. In fact, Aboud notes that children often speak of how proud they are of the father who saved a life.

Ronald Shamah echoes that sentiment, and describes the commitment and the selflessness of the members and their families, which is by no means easy.

“It’s running out in the middle of the night. It’s running out during the haggim. It’s running out during Yom Kippur. It’s running out of the house whenyou have company over for Shabbat,” he explains.

“It’s not running out for two minutes. It’s running out for an hour, hour and a half, two hours. It’s waking up in the middle of the night. It’s not just you waking up; it’s your spouse waking up along withyou, because they hear you getting up. They hear you moving around. And when you come back in, sometimes your family wakes up. Not one single complaint over all the years.”

Having the zechutto become Hashem’s partner in helping to save lives has a profound effect on Hatzalah members. “When you come back from a call, the feeling you have – that you helped somebody out – is a feeling like no other. It’s hard to describe, but there is a feeling inside you that is powerful. It’s just indescribable. People see that. They approach us, ‘How can I be part of something like that?’”

Hatzalah’s staff of professional, highly trained, and state certified volunteer emergency care providers is more than just a 24-hour emergency medical service. It is an absolute, total commitment to the sanctity of life – the embodiment of the 2,000-year-old dictum that whoever saves even one life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.To contact Hatzalah of the Jersey Shore call (732) 531-9988.