(photo credit: Channel 2)
As the country continues to reel from Saturday's murder of six members of the Oshrenko family, the eight firefighters who were first on the scene are getting psychological help to cope with what they experienced, even as they continue their lifesaving work.
Itzik Levi was head of the team that arrived at the burning apartment that fateful morning with no clue that he was going to be dealing with anything out of the ordinary.
"We went at 7:15, and began trying to get into the apartment," which was locked, Levi told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
"A firefighter who got in through a window bumped into the first body. We brought him into the stairwell, to breathe fresh air... we saw signs on the body that weren't from a fire... [there was] lots of blood.
"We knew this was an abnormal event, and called the police and Magen David Adom," said Levi. "The team brought out the children... [and] we knew it was a criminal event."
The firefighters did a thorough check of the apartment, as they do at every fire, and eventually found all six bodies.
"There was a lot of smoke, [and] everything was black, [so] we had to find everything by feel," he noted.
Now the firefighters are trying to cope with the memories of the grisly scene.
"We were the first ones to get involved," explained Levi. "When the police and Magen David Adom arrived, they knew that there were dead bodies.
"To take out a baby whose whole body is covered in stab wounds... it was a difficult event. We've seen lots of dead people, suicides, terror attacks... but an event like this..."
Levi said that, in his 19 years as a firefighter, this experience is "the most difficult we've had."
"Since [the event], we've had group support meetings, and talks about trauma. We didn't have talks like this after terror attacks," he said.
Levi stressed how professionally the firefighters at the Oshrenko apartment did their jobs, despite the horrendous situation in which they unexpectedly found themselves.
"Even with everything... the firefighters did their work professionally. They put out the fire, checked the apartment, turned off the gas... They did everything a professional firefighter does."
He said that the firefighters are each others' main form of comfort, something that makes it possible for them to continue with their difficult and dangerous job.
"There's a lot of support. We claim that those who put out the fires truly need to be the warriors of fire," he said. "We depend on each other, we help and support each other... we're a family. We know each others' families and children."
Added Levi, "It really helps. We can get through this together."
For Levi, the Oshrenko's tragic story had a personal connection.
"As part of my job as firefighter, I also work in instructing," he told the Post. "I knew the grandfather [Edward Oshrenko] and [Dmitri] Oshrenko's sister, Lana, from my instructing. I even saw her at the hospital while my wife was giving birth to my son.
"I asked her what she was doing there, and she said that her sister-in-law [Tatyana] was giving birth in the next room. I have a son the same age as the Oshrenko's son [Netanel], four-and-a-half months old."
But though he knew some of the victims personally, "At the incident, I couldn't even recognize the bodies," he said.
He added that challenging circumstances beyond those inherent in the job are complicating firefighters' work these days.
"There is a struggle going on with firefighters now," he explained. "We don't have the necessary manpower or budget.
"In Rishon, we have eight firefighters per shift for a population of over 200,000. They were all at the Oshrenko apartment. If there had been another incident while we had been there, there wouldn't have been anyone available to deal with it.
"It's important to understand that our work is holy work. We do everything for the people," said Levi. "It's hard, but we keep going. Our job is to save lives."