“As part of the lessons learned from the Carmel Forest fire tragedy, the ZAKA ZAKArescue and recovery organization has established a new Firefighting ATV Unit, with all-terrain vehicles equipped with fire-fighting and emergency first aid equipment,” explains ZAKA Chairman and Founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. “The Jerusalem Post has joined forces with us in our emergency campaign – to raise the necessary $50,000 by the end of the 2010 tax year.”

With just a few days to go, that might seem a tall order. But not for Jerusalem Post readers around the world who wish to be a part of life-saving operations in Israel. And certainly not for the ZAKA volunteer organization that can mobilize dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers within hours to help in any emergency. That emergency mobilization is exactly what happened on the first day of Chanukah, when the Carmel forest fire began to spread with lightning speed and tragic ferocity, leading to the death of 44 prison and police officers and cadets.

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Four teams
Under the direction of ZAKA Northern Commander Anshel Friedman, the ZAKA volunteers were divided into four teams at the site of the fire. One team worked on the burnt-out bus, ensuring that all human remains were removed. A second team was stationed at the temporary morgue that was set up to receive the victims and a third ZAKA team assisted in the complex operation of identifying the bodies.  A fourth team searched the area around the bus, including the hillside, to find survivors – or victims.

After hours of searching the area – at great personal risk to their lives due to the unpredictable nature of the fast-moving flames – the fourth team of ZAKA volunteers came across a chilling sight on the side of the mountain, close to the area where the bus was engulfed in flames.

Hezki Farkash, ZAKA Operations Commander, Northern Command explains. “While we were working on identification of the bodies recovered from the bus, we received a call on the ZAKA beeper from our team in the field, who thought they had found another body near the bus. A ZAKA volunteer, accompanied by a member of the fire service, went down the side of the mountain with the help of ropes, and it was there that they saw such a horrific and heart-rending sight. It was only then that the full horror of the scene became evident. This was not just one body, but 15 prison cadets who had tried to escape from the inferno, to no avail, embraced and perished.”

Death row
ZAKAThe scene on the road to Beit Oren was chilling indeed, as one body after another was recovered from the bus by the ZAKA team and laid in a row – death row – along the side of the road. Even the most veteran ZAKA volunteers, with more than a decade of experience of bus bombings and natural disasters, broke down at the scale of the tragedy that was unfolding before their eyes.

ZAKA team leader, Raphael Mant: “The awful scenes of so many bodies lined up one next to the other, completely burnt, recalls images from the Holocaust. It was extremely chilling.”

The next morning, ZAKA volunteers returned to the hillside near the bus in order to carry out a painstaking search for the missing Haifa Police Chief-Superintendent Yitzhak Melina who drove behind the ill-fated bus. After many hours of inch-by-inch searching, the victim’s body was found, recovered and identified.

Rappelling to find the last remains
Immediately after the conclusion of Shabbat, the ZAKA volunteers returned to the site and, in a final push to collect all the last human remains before the funerals the following day, began another complex mission of locating and collecting any remains that had been left behind on the hillside. In order to carry out this painstaking search, the ZAKA volunteers, with the assistance of the Galil-Carmel Rescue Unit, the Fire Service, Israel Police, Israel Electricity Company and the ZAKA Jeep Search and Rescue Unit, were lowered down the hillside on ropes.

Here, under the glare of the emergency lighting, they sifted through the charred soil – holy work that honors the victims who died under such terrible conditions. During the complex exercise, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Eli Shai paid a surprise visit to the ZAKA volunteers. “The people of Israel owe you much gratitude for the holy work that you have been doing since the outbreak of the fire.”

New ZAKA Firefighting ATV unit
The new ZAKA Firefighting ATV unit, in the name of the three police officers who ZAKAdied in the fire, will offer an immediate first response in the difficult terrain of the forested hillsides of the north.

“The unique and agile ATVs will carry innovative firefighting equipment that works on a pulse technique”, explains Meshi-Zahav. “They will carry special 50 liter water guns that use pulses of kinetic energy to fire a liter of water at a speed of 430 kilometers per hour. The force of the water delivers an effect ten times greater than conventional methods of dousing fires. Even with the first pulse of water, the temperature of the fire is reduced by half, which will allow first responders to reach the injured to administer first aid.”

Jerusalem Post readers are invited to donate to the Jerusalem Post/ZAKA campaign to purchase and equip a firefighting ATV, to be dedicated in the name of the readers of the Jerusalem Post.
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