‘She waited to make sure the fires were out’

Haifa police chief Ahuva Tomer laid to rest after losing battle against burn injuries.

Haifa police commander 311 (photo credit: Channel 10 News)
Haifa police commander 311
(photo credit: Channel 10 News)
Four days after suffering burns over 90 percent of her body when she rushed to save lives of prison wardens in a burning bus, Haifa Police chief Asst.-Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer died on Monday morning at the city’s Rambam Medical Center and was buried at the Haifa military cemetery in the afternoon.
During the funeral, hundreds of mourners from the Israel Police, local city leaders, politicians and members of the public stood around Tomer’s life partner, Danny Rozen, as her flag-draped coffin was led into a grave before a row of police honor guards.
After four days of fire raging through the North, light rain finally fell on Monday, as Tomer’s comrades, family and friends wept at her graveside.
Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen received word of Tomer’s death while traveling the South to visit seven Prisons Service families who lost loved ones in the fire.
“Ahuva, our friend, distinguished commander, a brave and iron woman who stood the difficult test of fire and rose to the challenge, lived and died as a hero. The whole of the Israel Police family is stunned with grief, and is hurting today,” Cohen said.
During the funeral, Cohen, who posthumously promoted Tomer to lieutenant-commander, said she had “waited to ensure the fires were out before leaving us.”
“These are difficult days,” he continued. “We have lost the best of our people and commanders, having also buried Asst.-Cmdr. Lior Boker and Dep.-Cmdr. Itzik Melina. All three of them reported for their missions on Thursday, as they have many times in the past, knowing the dangers, but also knowing thei responsibilities as police officers, and they entered the line of fire.”
Cohen described Tomer as a “woman who grew strong during 29 years of police service,” and as a natural leader, as well as an esteemed commander who led police efforts in Haifa to lower crime rates and deal with emergencies.
“I salute her, and embrace her family, who are now a part of us,” he said.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav delivered a tearful eulogy at Tomer’s funeral, saying, “It’s unbelievable that I’m standing here, saying good-bye... You were always on the front line, you always pushed yourself to the scene of the emergency, because you were a commander in every bone of your body. You were the best of the police.”
Yahav added, “You promised me many times that you would move to Haifa. I didn’t picture this would be the way.”
Born in Russia in 1957, Tomer came on aliya with her family at the age of two on a plane from Moscow in which prime minister David Ben-Gurion flew immigrants to Israel. She was a resident of Moshav Manot, near Shlomi.
“Unfortunately, Tomer did not return from this mission,” said her commanding officer, Asst.-Cmdr. Ronni Atiya. Northern District head Cmdr. Shimon Koren struggled to speak during the funeral, saying, “You fell while risking your life to save others.”
President Shimon Peres was also among those who eulogized Tomer on Monday, calling her “the best of the best” and “a symbol of courage.”
She was an example to all, he declared, adding that she had never had to raise her voice to the 550 police under her command.
“She was loved and admired, and she devoted her life to Israel,” he said.
Rozen had asked the Maccabi Haifa soccer team not to cancel a match scheduled for Monday evening, saying that Tomer, who had secured many soccer games in the city, would have wanted the fixture to go ahead.
Tomer was captured on camera minutes before the tragedy, driving together with an officer toward the blaze, telling reporters that she was on her way to check firsthand what the situation was in the Carmel forest. Seconds before she sped off in her police car, Tomer expressed concern for mothers and children in nearby Kibbutz Beit Oren, who were being evacuated.
The Rambam Medical Center burns unit tried desperately to save her over the past few days.
Tomer had nearly been clinically dead when evacuated to Carmel Medical Center, where emergency room staff kept her alive and then transferred her to the Rambam burns unit, but survival after being so extensively burned is extremely rare.
She was close to death during all her time there.
Rambam deputy directorgeneral Dr. Yaron Bar-El informed reporters and expressed the hospital’s deep sorrow over Tomer’s passing.
He had known her as a police officer who often came to the hospital for various incidents and cooperative events.
“She was an impressive figure with great abilities and loved by all,” he said.
Dr. Yaron Bar-Lavie, chief of the intensive care unit, said he had treated many police personnel in the past, but was moved by the abundant love and honor that Tomer was being shown by her colleagues.
“The special circumstances of her injury testify to her courage,” Bar-Lavie said. “We express our condolences to her family and our sorrow to the Israel Police for their great loss.”

Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.