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Jewish Journal

Hatzolah Expands Emergency Service

by Julie G Fax

August 5, 2004 | 8:00 pm

After midnight one Sunday last December, Motty Stock found his wife, Freda, unconscious on the bedroom floor. He picked up two phones and simultaneously called 911 and Hatzolah, an all-volunteer emergency first-response service.

While Stock was still on the phone giving information to 911, two Hatzolah volunteers bounded up the stairs to his Hancock Park home and began working on the 28-year-old woman, who was having a seizure and choking on vomit.

By the time the ambulance arrived 15 minutes after the initial call, Hatzolah volunteers had Freda Stock stabilized. They transferred her to the care of paramedics, got a babysitter for the three children so Motty Stock could ride along in the ambulance and sent someone to Ralphs to buy formula for the 4-week-old baby.

"They saved her life," Stock said. "It is impossible for me to describe what they did for us. It's invaluable."

Now, thousands more will have access to the life-saving skills of Hatzolah, which last month expanded its 3-year-old pilot program in Hancock Park to Valley Village and the Pico-Robertson area.

"Over the past three years, we have perfected ourselves in the sense that we are better equipped to meet the immediate needs of the emergency," said Zvika Brenner, president of Hatzolah Los Angeles. "Working together with local paramedics, we now know what they expect of us when they show up; we know what kind of information to obtain in order to make a seamless transfer of patient care when they arrive."

Aside from its near daily responses to medical emergencies, in the last three years Hatzolah in the Beverly-Fairfax-La Brea area has helped the Los Angeles Police Department capture a serial rapist, responded to a plane crash in the Fairfax neighborhood and has helped find five missing persons. At the request of city and county officials, some volunteers are training to respond to mass casualty incidents, such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

City and county fire and law enforcement departments, as well as local politicians, have praised Hatzolah's ability to become an integral part of Los Angeles' emergency response system.

Fifty new volunteers have been certified as county emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in the heavily Orthodox Valley Village and Pico-Robertson areas.

Hatzolah, Hebrew for rescue, does not have its own ambulances and does not replace calling 911. Rather, it acts as a bridge in the critical first minutes of an emergency until paramedics arrive.

The average ambulance response time in Los Angeles is six to 10 minutes. Hatzolah's average response time is 90 seconds, since all volunteers work and live in the areas they serve and constantly wear radios and have easy access to equipment.

"In an emergency, six to 10 minutes is an eternity," said Azriel Aharon, a coordinator and volunteer EMT for the Pico-Robertson area. "Even if we only beat [the ambulance] by two minutes, that can be the difference between life and death."

Hatzolah volunteers are equipped with defibrillators, oxygen tanks and trauma kits.

They train for 120 hours to receive EMT status and are able to perform everything from basic first aid to life-saving procedures, such as tracheotomies. They also learn how to secure an accident scene and gather the pertinent information to transfer care to the medical and emergency professionals when they arrive. Volunteers take additional classes in city and county protocol, and do ride-alongs with county ambulances.

The volunteers are all Shabbat-observant married males, as per the original 1972 Hatzolah New York charter, which also provides guidelines for halachic liberties that can be taken to save life or limb.

Hatzolah in Hancock Park, with about 35 volunteers, has received an average of a call a day. Tripling its area of coverage has necessitated improving the two-way radio system and equipping two more garages with supplies for restocking.

Hatzolah is currently training more dispatchers -- mostly women -- who take around-the-clock shifts of several hours to answer a dedicated Hatzolah line in their homes.

Hatzolah will respond to anyone who calls, but its publicity is done through synagogues and schools in the areas it serves.

Startup costs for Hatzolah in the Pico-Robertson area, which has about 40 volunteers, was about $150,000 and in the Valley was about $30,000 for 18 volunteers. Citywide, it will cost about $120,000 a year to maintain, with all of the money raised through private donations.

Yossi Manila is forever thankful to Hatzolah volunteers who rushed to his house late on a Friday afternoon after his 2-year-old daughter swallowed a dozen chewable Benadryls (Poison Control informed him that up to 20 chewables wasn't harmful).

"When your daughter is lying unconscious in your arms, and you can't figure out what to do, you just feel extremely helpless and extremely hopeless," Manila said. "Hatzolah came, and they were extremely professional and extremely comforting."

For emergencies, call 911, then (800) 933-6460. For nonemergencies, call (310) 841-2328 or visit www.hatzolah.org .

Contributing Editor Tom Tugend contributed to this article.

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