Volunteer rescue team members risk own lives to save others

F.I.R.S.T, which stands for First Israeli Search and Rescue Team, has some 500 volunteers spread out in units across the country.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFFLER,
December 5, 2010 04:01
2 minute read.
Blazes in Yemin Orde, Friday

Carmel fire plane 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

When members of F.I.R.S.T, a volunteer search and rescue team, heard news on Thursday that brushfires were spreading rapidly throughout the forests of the Carmel mountain range they immediately rushed into action. Within hours, some 80 volunteers had assembled on the scene in full gear ready to offer their assistance.

They did so, like they always do, despite having only limited insurance.

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“Our volunteers have basic insurance but it doesn’t cover operations like rappelling or scuba diving,” Avi Bachar, the head of F.I.R.S.T, said on Saturday. “Our guys are hooked; they don’t care if there’s insurance or not, they just want to rescue lives.

“But we’re looking for complementary insurance to provide them with peace of mind, should – heaven forbid – anything happen to them.”

F.I.R.S.T, which stands for First Israeli Search and Rescue Team, has some 500 volunteers spread out in units across the country, from the Golan Heights in the north to Ein Gedi and the Negev region in the south. Throughout the year, they rescue hundreds of stranded hikers from deep ravines or steep precipices. They also have a group of volunteer scuba divers, ready to assist in searching for bodies trapped underwater.

“Many hikers lose their way and we get them out,” Bachar said. “You hear about our work in the news all the time.”

In addition, the group also offers its help overseas. Its members were recently involved in searches in parts of the world like Sudan and Chad.

Back at the Carmel forest fire, F.I.R.S.T members helped in locating the body of a missing youth who had perished in the flames. But when it became apparent that the main effort was in containing the blaze and there were few people who needed rescuing, they were released by authorities. Still, Bachar said his organization was ready to offer help wherever and whenever needed.

While the members of F.I.R.S.T and others like them risk their lives to save others, thousands of volunteers from across Israel have volunteered since Thursday in less hazardous ways.

Tel Aviv resident Matan, 30, was with friends in the north on Thursday when he heard a call for help, asking volunteers with 4 x 4 trucks to come to Keren Ma’ara to provide logistic help for the rescue effort.


“When I got there I saw hundreds of people from all over Israel, many of whom had responded after seeing a message on Facebook. Immediately they asked for people able to take in displaced people or animals to sign up, and we did. The next day, me and many of the others drove around Israel collecting food donations to take to the operations sites to hand out to rescue personnel.”

When asked why he had volunteered, Matan scoffed at the question.

“What, it’s not a shame to lose the Carmel? I was born in Haifa, I’m a gardener, I love green and I love nature. It’s very sad, there’s nowhere else like the Carmel in Israel.”


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