Late-night booms punctuate a sad routine for MDA personnel

'Post' reporter spends 24 hours with Magen David Adom in rocket-hit Sderot.

MDA sderot kassam  (photo credit: Channel 10 [archive])
MDA sderot kassam
(photo credit: Channel 10 [archive])
Magen David Adom Sderot seems to have settled this week into an uneasy routine, but a routine to which they are becoming all too accustomed. The day begins with the first barrage, sometime around seven. The emergency teams are the same ones that were formed the night before, and they are dressed and ready long before the first rocket lands in Sderot's quiet streets. After the early barrage, it is time for breakfast. Beduin paramedics from Beersheba share omelets with those from the Galilee and from Elkana. Teenage volunteers from the local pre-army yeshiva compare notes with a soldier who spent the first night of his week of leave sleeping on standby on the station's floor. They joke about their sleeping arrangements - the mosquitoes, the snoring and the late night "booms" from barrages and IAF strikes in Gaza. Located barely a block away from city hall, the Sderot MDA station is now swollen with 30-40 volunteers from stations across the country. The emergency teams do not talk about recent events, nor about casualties they have seen, but compare notes between the "last war" in the North and the situation today in Sderot. "It's nothing like in the North," says a medic who served in an infantry platoon in Lebanon. "Katyushas are bigger, the explosion is bigger." Around one, the situation changes. After two launches whose rockets land outside of the town limits, the third barrage hits home. The personnel cram into the station's bomb shelter shoulder-to-shoulder and stomach-to-stomach. Before everybody has squeezed in, the first boom is heard. "25, 25!" yells Negev Region Assistant Commander Itzik Alfassi, and the urgent care ambulance's crew pushes through the other medics and out to the vehicle. Alfassi himself jumps in to the ambulance at the last minute and it ricochets down the streets of Sderot. Seconds after the rocket lands, the streets come alive. People gather on corners, yelling directions to the long line of ambulances, police cars, and SUV's driven by foreign journalists - all led by Ambulance 25. The driver leans out the window, asking passers-by if they know where the rocket has landed. Unlike the North, there are no "lookouts" posted at high points to spot rocket landings and direct emergency crews to the scene. Upon arriving, the medics discover that their services are not needed. The same routine is repeated throughout the afternoon, as rockets land in open fields and empty lots. One ambulance crew finds itself picking up lone shock victims who need assistance after each such strike. "When we took her to the trauma center, the woman just started crying and wouldn't stop," said a young volunteer from the Tel Aviv area. "What do you want? That's shock," explains one of the local team. MDA Director-General Eli Bin visits the station and receives a briefing on arrangements to reduce the station's cramped conditions. Construction crews have appeared on the scene, unloading port-a-potties to relieve the stress on the one toilet currently serving 40 people. A new station, funded by overseas donors, is being built in Sderot, but the security situation has slowed the process and the new facility will open for business in three to four months at the earliest. "On Monday, we hope, a temporary bomb shelter will come by truck," says Alon Friedman, MDA's assistant director for building and infrastructure. For Bin, the security of teams on the scene is a non-negotiable issue - and a pressing concern. Bin says that the organization has been working closely with its overseas supporters to ensure that budgetary constraints will not prevent teams from being outfitted with flack jackets and helmets. The Kassam strikes increase throughout the evening, and ambulances are scrambled to nearby Kibbutz Nir Am, where a Kassam struck a restaurant. By the time the first team arrives, flames from the wooden structure reach two stories. The restaurant's owner looks on, speechless, as his property burns to the ground in less than half an hour. "Why did it have to land on that restaurant?" Tovah, a local paramedic throws her hands up in the air. "It was one of the few good ones in the area. Indian food... now I'll have to go to Tel Aviv to get Indian food." The Kassam strikes have had a profound effect on the regular staff of the MDA station. Tovah's apartment has been hit twice by rockets - the second time, last week, broke windows and caused damage inside. And one of the station's veteran medics, Yossi, responded last year to a rocket strike at Kibbutz Karmiya to find his daughter and two grandchildren wounded. Just this week, Yossi's brother's house was also hit by a rocket. In the evening, some of the out-of-town reinforcements leave to go home, and new ones arrive. A pair of deeply tanned medics arrive from the far reaches of the Arava. One is the security director for their region, but says that he, too, wants to volunteer time to Sderot. The station settles in for the night, with medics dragging camp mattresses and sleeping bags onto any available floor space. The Arava medics grab opposite ends of the only sofa, and fall asleep. Silence descends on the station and the city. As morning breaks, the medics are awake again. New teams refresh the old, and a new round of Kassams falls on the still-sleeping town.