An Israeli entrepreneur is uniting previously divided communities while at the same time accomplishing a common goal: saving lives.
Workers zoom to emergency sites on “ambucycles”—motorcycles decked out with lifesaving equipment—and are able to reach victims before ambulances can arrive.
Surprisingly, the nation of Israel does not have a centralized emergency call system. A nonprofit affiliate of the Red Cross, Magen David Adom, serves most urban areas, but many locations remain hard to reach.
United Hatzalah’s ambucyclists, dispersed nationally, can respond to emergency calls in minutes.
While admitting that trust among volunteers was faint at first, as Beer told his audience at a 2013 TedMed talk, the group’s common goal soon overrode prejudice. “United Hatzalah is not about saving Jews, it’s not about saving Muslims, it’s not about saving Christians,” he said, “it’s about saving people.
“Now that we have volunteers from all kinds of backgrounds working together, people understand they have a lot more in common and respect each other,” he explained. “Our volunteers fight together for life.”
Beer’s passion to save lives was ignited by two traumatic childhood experiences, and later when his Jewish father’s life was saved by a Muslim volunteer EMT.
Walking home from school in Jerusalem at age 6, Beer and his brother witnessed a bus bombing, Ashoka reported. He heard victims screaming, but, fearful and confused, he fled.
Beer became a volunteer EMT at 15, where another frightening experience further fueled his dedication. Stuck in heavy traffic, Beer’s team failed to reach a choking 7-year-old child in time to save him.
The child was pronounced dead at the scene in the care of a doctor who lived in the neighborhood.
Beer made an observation that day: if the doctor had been notified sooner, he may have been able to attend the scene in time to save the child. The idea of a neighborhood-scale first-response organization was born.
He was inspired by the “Hatzalah” model practiced by Hasidic Jews in 1960s Brooklyn, where Jewish medics were equipped to respond to emergency calls from local communities. At age 17, Beer and 15 fellow EMTs organized a similar model in their neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Initially denied the support his ambulance company needed, Beer purchased handheld police scanners to tap into emergency radio communications and decided to improvise.
Volunteers started out on foot. Next came the ambucycle. And in 2006, Beer turned his passion project into United Hatzalah. Beer’s army of volunteers increased in numbers. Today, United Hatzalah coordinates 6,000 medics and doctors across Israel, using GPS technology to deploy the nearest volunteers to practically any emergency.
The organization has treated 207,000 people in Israel just in 2019, with an average response time of under three minutes. The service is free and entirely sponsored by donations.
Beer’s brainchild has grown since 2006 to become the largest independent, volunteer-run first-response service in the world. Other countries are catching on. The United Hatzalah model is being copied in cities such as Jersey City and Detroit.
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