On Monday afternoon, ten Search and Rescue Units took part in a joint exercise with the IDF’s Search and Rescue Unit 669 and United Hatzalah. According to Shmuel Avraham, the Director of Emergency and Security Operations at United Hatzalah, approximately ten percent of the volunteers present at the exercise were members of United Hatzalah’s emergency medical services. The exercise took place outside of the southern city of Arad and featured helicopter rescues and high-intensity training drills in some of the most difficult terrain in Israel.
The cooperative relationship between United Hatzalah together with the IDF’s 669 Unit, began a few years ago but intensified after a recent meeting between the Emergency and Security Operations department of United Hatzalah and the IDF’s Search and Rescue Unit 669. The meeting took place at the 669 base in the center of the country.
While the department heads met with the chief officers of the unit an emergency alert sounded in the base notifying the soldiers to prepare for departure. The EMS staff went together with the chief officers into the unit’s operational command center where they heard that a car had fallen off a cliff on the Golan Heights.
While the soldiers were preparing for takeoff, Shmuel Avraham the Director of Emergency and Security Operations at United Hatzalah contacted the EMS volunteer who was dispatched to the scene in order to get a situation report. The volunteer reported to Avraham and the IDF officers that he was on scene and that both the driver and passenger had been able to evacuate the car after the fall and sustained light injuries. The IDF unit was able to stand down and the military, as well as the taxpayers, saved money that would have been wasted on an unnecessary helicopter excursion had the unit not had the first-hand information from the scene.
“The Chief Officer of the unit told me at that moment that there was no further need to explain who we are and how our team can be useful to the IDF. He just saw it with his own eyes. From that moment we have been working together, sharing information, and collaborating on rescue operations across Israel, especially in the peripheral areas where EMS response requires a helicopter evacuation,” Avraham explained.
Currently, United Hatzalah informs the IDF’s 669 unit of all cases where an emergency evacuation is needed by phone. The unit receives the original alert about the incident, the phone number of the first responder who arrives on the scene, and an exact GPS location of the incident via the GPS on the responder’s phone. All of this information drastically diminishes the time it takes for the unit to arrive. “669 also has a United Hatzalah radio in their command center and they can listen in to all of the emergencies that our teams are called to,” said Avraham. “We send them special alerts notifying them to cases that require their presence and expertise, but they have all the all the information that we do, in real time. That can make the difference for many people who suffer accidents, get lost, or dehydrate in far flung places around the country. Many of these areas are simply too far from a hospital to have patients transported by ambulance. Thus, evacuation needs to be done by helicopter. That is why the 669 Unit and EMS teams are natural partners,” said Avraham. "We can get them real-time information about the emergency from the field and they use their expertise during the evacuation."
Since the collaboration has begun, many of the 669 unit’s members, all of whom are trained paramedics, have begun to volunteer with United Hatzalah when they are off duty.
Monday’s drill was held in an effort to increase the level of cooperation between the various units involved in order to improve collaboration, preparedness, and operational readiness. "With more than 100 volunteers from ten different Search and Rescue Units who trained together with the IDF and United Hatzalah, the collaboration and readiness are now at all-time highs," Avraham concluded.