Israel’s ZAKA International Rescue Unit recently held a course in Mexico City to train 45 volunteers in search and rescue.

This was the first time the training course had taken place, since the September 2016 recognition of the ZAKA light search and rescue training booklet and protocol by INSARAG, a global network of more than 80 countries and organizations under the UN umbrella dealing with urban search and rescue related issues, that sets stringent standards for training courses.

ZAKA drill included a simulation of the immediate after-effects of a significant earthquake. Photo by ZAKA
ZAKA drill included a simulation of the immediate after-effects of a significant earthquake. Photo by ZAKA

The recognition of the ZAKA light search and rescue course set a precedent – the first time that INSARAG recognized a volunteer organization that is not restricted to one member state.

The drill included a simulation of the immediate after-effects of a significant earthquake, with the teams working in different sites inside and outside collapsed buildings, extracting the injured and the victims from the rubble. They also took part in the simulation of an explosive terror attack, practicing the skills they had learned in life-saving medical assistance.

“The first 24 hours in any mass casualty incident are the most critical in terms of saving lives. This course provides the necessary tools, and subsequent simulation, to allow the local community to offer a professional, swift and life-saving response to any disaster in their region. And all this, before the arrival of international search and rescue teams,” said Jerusalem-based ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein, who led the week-long long training course.

Local representatives from Cadena, Hatzala, the Hevra Kadisha and security forces in Mexico City took part in the course.

Hatzalah of Mexico volunteers riding on ambucycles with United Hatzalah volunteers. Photo by Meir Lavi – United Hatzalah
Hatzalah of Mexico volunteers riding on ambucycles with United Hatzalah volunteers. Photo by Meir Lavi – United Hatzalah

Meanwhile, 18 emergency medical services (EMS) volunteers from Hatzalah Mexico came for training with United Hatzalah in Israel this week. Among the training exercises was dealing with a rolling mass casualty incident.

“We’ve never encountered a situation like this before,” said Victor Penhos, a Mexican volunteer EMT who attended a 10-day training session in Israel. “In our community-based Hatzalah EMS organization, we deal with 70 percent clinical calls and only 30 percent trauma calls, and never anything on this scale.”

The Mexican volunteers also participated in a week-long refresher course that focused on a variety of skills and were introduced to the ambucycle fleet of the Israeli organization.

“The motorcycles arrive so quickly and are able to cut through traffic. In Mexico, we have to transport the patient, so we use ambulances, but having EMTs on motorcycles can really make a difference and cut down on response time. It is fantastic,” said Mexican volunteer Berty Abadi.

The Mexican delegation summed up that the Israeli course should be a must for other emergency medical teams wanting to improve their response times.

“This has been an amazing experience,” said Zion Asse, an EMT from Mexico. “We highly recommend to other Hatzalah units around the world to come and participate in similar exercises and training. In Mexico, our Hatzalah deals with the community, and we are trained for that. In Israel, the whole country is treated by people from the community, and that is something that is very new and very exciting for us to see. A community of volunteers spread across a country, saving a country and dealing with any and every medical emergency. It is something unique and something special to behold.”