Red Dawn: 24 hours with MDA Sderot, Part I

Sunday morning began with four rockets, but within an hour after the explosions stopped, the MDA forces in Sderot set up breakfast in the grassy area behind the station. Medics from the Negev area shared omelets with medics and paramedics from the Dan Region. They compared notes about their sleeping arrangements - who woke up from mosquitoes and who woke up from the late night barrages and the IAF strikes in Gaza. The idle conversation continues as the MDA teams begin to straighten up the small single-story headquarters in the center of town. They do not talk about recent events, nor about injuries they have seen, but compared notes between the "last war" last summer in the north and the situation today in Sderot. "Its nothing like in the north," says one medic who served in an infantry platoon in Lebanon. "Katyushas are bigger, the explosion is bigger. And went we went in to Lebanon, there were so many of them." Around one o'clock, the situation changes. After two "red dawn" warnings in which the rockets land outside of the town limits, the third barrage hits home. The personnel in the reinforced station cram into the small bomb shelter and spill out, shoulder-to-shoulder and stomach-to-stomach into the stairs leading down to the basement room. Before everybody has squeezed in, the first boom is heard. "That was in the city," says one of the paramedics who has come from the Tel Aviv area. "Twenty-five, twenty five!" yells the station commander, and the crew of the urgent care ambulance pushes through the other medics and out to the vehicle. Assistant Station chief Alfassi jumps in to the ambulance at the last minute and sirens blazing, it ricochets down the streets of Sderot, speeding around traffic circles as Alfassi directs the driver using directions that he receives over his walkie-talkie. Seconds after the rocket lands, the streets of Sderot are anything but silent. Large groups of people are gathered on corners, watching and directing the long line of ambulances, police cars, and SUV's driven by foreign journalists - all led by MDA Sderot Ambulance #25. The driver leans out the window, asking passers-by if they know where the rocket has landed. Unlike in the north, there are no "lookouts" posted at high points to spot rocket landings and direct emergency crews to the scene. The convoy grows longer and longer, picking up more and more vehicles as it winds through the streets like a centipede or a frenetic conga line. And finally, after trial-and-error and several wrong turns, the crews are informed that this time - at least - their work is not needed. "The rocket appears to have landed in the yard of a synagogue. There was nobody around and it doesn't seem to have exploded," the operator says over the walkie-talkie. "The police bomb squads are on the scene. No injuries…" the operator begins, and then, as an afterthought, adds "for now."