United Hatzalah/Rescue opens Englewood chapter
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United Hatzalah/Rescue opens Englewood chapter

System allows extremely local help to begin before ambulances reach emergency

United Rescue Englewood volunteers will partner with local 911 members in a new response network.
United Rescue Englewood volunteers will partner with local 911 members in a new response network.

An Israeli-inspired, Jersey City-tested system of neighborhood first responders is beginning operations in Englewood.

United Rescue, the American affiliate of the Israeli organization United Hatzalah, has a chapter in Jersey City — as well as in Panama City, Uman, Kyiv, and Cartagena. (“Hatzalah” means “rescue” in Hebrew.)

United Rescue Englewood will be integrated directly with the local 911 system and will run in partnership with the town’s emergency medical services organization, Englewood Health EMS.

The United Hatzalah/Rescue model aims to get help to people in distress within three minutes via trained volunteer emergency medical technicians who live or work in the neighborhood where the emergency is reported.

The EMTs, who arrive by foot or cycle with first-aid equipment, not slowed by traffic or distance, can start assessment and treatment while an ambulance is on its way, and then they can assist the ambulance crew if necessary.

Eli Beer, an Israeli American citizen, had the idea for United Hatzalah when the ambulance on which he was volunteering in the 1980s got stuck in Jerusalem traffic and failed to reach a choking child in time. Mr. Beer, then a teenager, envisioned squads of neighborhood-based volunteers who could reach patients quickly. In 1989, he equipped 15 volunteer first-responders in his Jerusalem neighborhood with police scanners and thus planted the seed for a nationwide organization, United Hatzalah, (https://israelrescue.org/), which was founded formally in 2006.

Many Orthodox Jewish communities in America and abroad have their own EMS squads, called Hatzalah (or Hatzolah). United Hatzalah differs from those groups in two major ways: it’s a grassroots model that does not serve only Jewish residents, and it is tied into the 911 system rather than having its own phone number.

“One of the big goals is being open to everybody from the community,” Joe Kristol said. “Englewood has a large Jewish population, but we want representatives from across all the different neighborhoods.” Mr. Kristol is a senior adviser to Mark Gerson, the co-founder and chairman of United Hatzalah of Israel and United Rescue USA.

“Diversity is important to the way we operate, because the program only makes sense if you have local neighborhood responders,” Mr. Kristol added

The Jersey City United Rescue chapter, launched in December 2015 with the support of Mayor Steven Fulop, has 200 trained volunteers who respond to about 100 calls per week. A ninth training session, now in progress, will add approximately another 20 volunteers to the squad.

“Jersey City was our proof of concept that the model could work in the U.S.,” Mr. Kristol said. “We’ve been looking for opportunities to expand.”

United Rescue Englewood’s activities launched with a September 19 inauguration event at Englewood Health (formerly known as Englewood Hospital and Medical Center). Participants included 25 volunteer trainees who were soon to start 60 hours of instruction; volunteers from the Jersey City chapter; Englewood’s Mayor Michael Wildes; the city’s EMS director, Rick Sposa; and Englewood Health’s Vice President for Facilities Management and Emergency Preparedness, Harvey Weber.

Mr. Wildes, an attorney with offices in Manhattan as well as in Englewood, told the gathered crowd: “As a 27-year veteran of Hatzolah in Manhattan, I know the special DNA that United Rescue has. And I’m proud that more brothers and sisters are coming on board in Englewood. This is a terrific initiative hosted by our hospital, Englewood Health, and our EMS department that already work so hard to keep our residents healthy.”

Mr. Kristol said that the community-funded chapter could not have gotten off the ground without “local leadership and political willpower because of the need to integrate with 911. Rick Sposa previously was second in command of EMS in Jersey City. When Englewood recruited him two and a half years ago to direct EMS, he agreed on the condition that he could bring in United Rescue, and Englewood Health EMS agreed.”

It took a while to design the program, raise funds, and recruit volunteers,” Mr. Sposa said. “It’s been a long journey, and I’m thrilled that we’re about to begin training our first class of volunteers. I have seen firsthand in Jersey City how United Rescue can save lives and bring a community together.”

When they graduate from the approximately 10-week emergency medical responder training course led by Englewood Health EMS, capped by several shifts with ambulance crews, the United Rescue volunteers will become registered Community Based Emergency Caregivers (CBECs). They will be equipped to respond to nearby 911 calls and provide pre-ambulance emergency care.

Noah Elbogen, a United Rescue Englewood volunteer and United Hatzalah board member, spoke about his excitement at starting the program in his hometown. “I’ve been involved with United Hatzalah of Israel for years but never dreamed of having the opportunity to volunteer to save lives myself,” he said. “Now, with the launch of United Rescue in Englewood, members of our community have the chance to be a part of a program that is truly innovative, lifesaving, and extraordinary.”

Mr. Kristol said that more applications are coming in every day, “so I feel pretty confident we will start a second class.”

He added that members of the Englewood Volunteer Ambulance Corps “are more than welcome to volunteer with United Rescue as well. Our distributed model and technology would give them the opportunity to respond to even more calls, as they could always be notified through our app when there’s a 911 medical emergency nearby as opposed to just during ambulance shifts. Similarly, in Jersey City, we have some Hatzolah EMTs who also volunteer with us because they love to respond to calls.”

Mr. Gerson said that he commends “the team at Englewood Health and EMS Director Rick Sposa for his vision, leadership, and ingenuity in bringing United Rescue to Englewood — as well as Mayor Wildes for his strong support and his inspiring dedication as a volunteer first responder himself for almost three decades.

“The launch of United Rescue Englewood is helping to fulfill our vision for United Hatzalah’s lifesaving model of crowdsourced first response to be one of Israel’s great gifts to the world.”

For information on how to volunteer, go to www.UnitedRescue.US or email unitedrescue@ehmchealth.org

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