At the funeral for his mother, killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7, a little boy was embraced by American firefighters currently in Israel through the Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP).
The chief of a Jerusalem fire station had told them that he heard the bereaved boy loves firemen. So they came to the funeral with an engine, bringing a little cheer to the heartbreaking scene.
With support from partners, EVP has brought over dozens of firefighters from across the United States to help their Israeli peers in this dangerous and difficult time.
Adi Zahavi, an emergency medical technician with Magen David Adom in Jerusalem, started EVP 16 years ago.
“After the second Lebanon war [in 2006] we saw that, as strong as we are, when the shit hits the fan we need manpower,” Zahavi tells ISRAEL21c.
“I wanted to create an arm that can be monitored and work with the government to get the right people to be ready and certified to help us.”
EVP’s first collaboration was with Israel’s National Fire and Rescue Authority.
“We were approved to train firefighters from the US together with Israeli firefighters and certify them to become volunteers in Israel so they can be deployed, with insurance, at a moment’s notice, fully familiar with the equipment and protocols,” says Zahavi.
“We now have over 650 trained American firefighters certified in our database.”
It’s their turn
It took less than a week from the Hamas attacks for the first contingent of EVP firefighters to arrive in Israel on October 13. Another landed on October 14, and more are still arriving.
They had a refresher course at the Israel Fire and Rescue Academy in Rishon LeZion and then deployed to Jerusalem, greater Tel Aviv and Ashkelon. The manpower shortage is all the more acute in Israel because many firefighters were called up to serve in the military reserves.
Several firefighters from Texas said they had been hosted for meals at Kibbutz Be’eri last May when they’d come to help in a previous brief conflict with Gazan terrorists.
Be’eri, close to the border, was hard hit on October 7. About 100 of the 1,100 residents were killed and another 100 or so kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. Now the firefighters wonder if their hosts are still alive.
Other EVP volunteers came from Miami Beach, in gratitude to Israeli emergency personnel who came to help in Florida after the Surfside building collapse in 2021.
Now it’s their turn. “We immediately started handling calls with [the Israeli firefighters] to try to lighten up their load, to help them out with car crashes, fires, lift assists, anything they needed,” said Juan, an EVP volunteer from Florida.
“These guys are our brothers and sisters,” said Anthony, another Florida firefighter who answered the EVP call.
“An attack on Israel is an attack on us. The United States and Israel are united and we need to help them out. I’m so glad, so honored, to have done this.”
Medical and mass feeding teams
In addition to fire and rescue, EVP also prepares worldwide medical and mass-feeding support for Israel in times of crisis.
Right now, says Zahavi, more than 50 American physicians are in Israel through EVP. They are serving with the IDF Medical Crops, Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and Ziv Medical Center in Safed (Tzfat).
“Over 200 additional trained medical volunteers – doctors, nurses, paramedics and PAs — are on standby to replace and augment teams if needed,” he says.
“The idea is giving the employees respite when they need it, and also adding extra workers to the effort. We are now getting approached by more hospitals.”
EVP’s mass-feeding teams are working in emergency mobile kitchens coordinated by government ministries.
These teams, mainly comprised of Israelis, have distributed tens of thousands of meals to soldiers and to civilians who have been evacuated from their homes since the war started. Zahavi says trained mass-feeding volunteers from the United States are ready to ramp up this effort if needed.
“So far, we’ve deployed many volunteers in the three categories, and they’re working around the clock,” says Zahavi.
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