Hospital officials were showing Evan Feuer around the emergency room at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon when they heard tires screeching outside. A woman in the car was in cardiac arrest.
Within minutes, and before doctors had arrived, the woman was intubated, had an IV placed and was breathing thanks to Feuer, who managed the woman’s airway, and hospital paramedics and nurses. Within a half hour she was off to the intensive care unit.
“That was my welcome to Israel, my first patient,” said Feuer, a Silver Spring native and paramedic of more than 20 years.
Feuer, four Baltimore residents and a Texas nurse were deployed on a week-long volunteer mission to the hospital to assist medical personnel in various capacities. Barzilai, located miles from Gaza, was inundated with patients during Operation Protective Edge.
Joining Feuer on the mission were Scott Goldstein, first engine lieutenant at the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company; Scott Weiner, an EMS lieutenant at the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company; and two members of Hatzalah of Baltimore, Jonathan Lerner and David Heyman. The Texas participant was Wendi Schambach.
They were deployed through the Emergency Volunteers Project, a volunteer-run, not-for-profit organization that recruits and trains emergency service workers to back up first responders in Israel. The need for EVP volunteers arises during conflicts, an EVP official said, when demand for medical services is high but manpower is reduced as Israeli EMTs in the reserves are called to the frontlines or serve in infantry. With no mutual aid agreements with its neighbors, Israel calls in outside help, in this case through EVP.
The organization, which started four years ago, works with 600 personnel in the U.S., and seeks people with years of experience in high-pressure environments. EVP raises money on an as-needed basis for the deployments and trainings, an official said.
This deployment was EVP’s second during Operation Protective Edge. The first sent firefighters to respond to rocket attacks along the Gaza border and elsewhere. Those volunteers extinguished a brush fire in a kibbutz’s field that was hit by a rocket.
The most recent deployment sent the six Americans to Barzilai, an almost 600-bed facility that has seen more than 1,500 patients during the latest military operations. Those who volunteered were called Sunday evening, Aug. 24, and were on planes to Israel within 48 hours. The deployment’s last day was Monday.
“It’s a way for me to step up and help my friends and family over here, and normally, I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Goldstein, who had been to Israel twice prior to this deployment. “Hopefully, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Weiner, who had the support of his wife and kids, said going on the deployment was a no-brainer.
“I didn’t really think twice about it,” he said. “The reality of it is, it’s our homeland. That’s how I feel about it.”
His family’s foundation, the Roz and Marvin H. Weiner Family Foundation, was one of several organizations that sponsored the deployment. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Texas-based John Hagee Ministries also sponsored the trip.
For The Associated, devoting resources to EVP met its requirements of specific, meaningful and safe work.
“We wanted to support our sister city,” said Mary Haar, director of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas department. “They’re doing good work in Ashkelon.”
The six volunteers spent their time working in Barzilai’s emergency room, operating room and intensive care unit and helped with intake of patients
as well. In addition to the woman in cardiac arrest, patients they helped included a boy with severe burns from an at-home accident, a patient with a bad snakebite and a bicyclist critically injured in a car accident.
By the end of the deployment, hospital staff and EVP volunteers were working together seamlessly.
For Feuer, who spent 15 months in Iraq as a medic and a combat medical trainer, it was easy to see the need for EVP.
“They were getting overwhelmed with patients. This is a small, 18-bed ER [that] had to process 70 to 80 patients an hour,” said Feuer, who works part time as a paramedic in Trenton, N.J., and runs several businesses. “They were overwhelmed, their facility was overwhelmed, and their staff was overwhelmed, and our role was to ease some of that burden as much as we were able to.”
Before heading home, EVP volunteers were honored at a hospital ceremony, which was attended by American Embassy officials, and met with members of the Knesset.
Volunteers walked away from the experience with several impressions and ideas. Things at the hospital seem to be returning to normal, or “standard insanity,” Feuer said.
Goldstein and Weiner hope to start a Baltimore chapter of EVP to help with future recruits and training. But ultimately, they left feeling like they helped out in a conflict that can seem so far away from the U.S.
“I lived in Israel in the past,” Feuer said. “As an American Jew, looking at the news every day, seeing what’s going without being able to lay your hands down and affect any difference is difficult.”