United Hatzalah and ZAKA have decided to merge, creating the country’s largest first-response rescue and evacuation force.
The organization, which will have a total of 4,400 volunteers, including 3,400 medics, will provide help on a national basis in the event of missile strikes, natural disasters, extreme weather and unnatural catastrophes.
By comparison, first-aid, blood supply and ambulance service Magen David Adom has 2,700 volunteers and workers who go out into the field, not including paid ambulance drivers, the two NGOs said.
UH president and founder Eli Beer and ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav said jointly on Tuesday night that they had “reached the conclusion that there is no alternative to volunteer preparedness on the home front. This cooperation will improve the spread of volunteer emergency forces to 110 cities and local councils and 30 regional councils.”
In addition, the fund-raising organization Isralife that has raised money for UH abroad will now collect contributions for both that organization and ZAKA. The merging groups do not charge fees, unlike MDA, which is required to do so by law.
ZAKA began as a voluntary organization to evacuate the dead during terrorist attacks and to find the missing during earthquakes and other disasters here and abroad, but has expanded its original aims to include the rescue of the living. UH sends volunteer medics to emergencies within two to four minutes of being called. Both make extensive use of motorcycles to reach the scene first.
Jointly, they will use 350 motorcycles. MDA primarily uses ambulances.
The new united organization, that will have a joint symbol but whose new name has not yet been announced, will function seven days a week – including Shabbat and holidays – and in all weather.
A little more than half of UH volunteers, and an even larger share of ZAKA volunteers, are haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men.
But the UH also includes modern Orthodox and secular Jews, Druse, Muslims and even some women. As few haredim serve in the military reserves, they will be free to carry out rescues and resuscitation at any time, the groups said.
The new NGO will also use their four-wheeled-drive vehicles and 15 boats for rescue operations in those environments that call for them.
Many of the UH and ZAKA volunteers have already participated in IDF exercises simulating mass catastrophes.
Training will now become uniform for both groups’ volunteers.
Beer said that the combined organization would be able to shorten response times, attract more volunteers, become more professional and improve their technologies.