We all remember Hurricane Ida: torrential rain, gusting winds, water levels rising everywhere - in basements, garages and businesses - cars floating on the expressway as if they were rafts, and people stranded all over the city. This is not to mention the medical emergencies due to the flooding and electrical outages. While many of us made sure to remain in the safety and comfort of our homes, the dedicated members of Hatzolah of Queens & Great Neck were responding to those in need. Whether it was an elderly person in need of oxygen, a mother and child freezing in their car that shut down, or a woman in active labor, just to mention a few calls that night.

One of the Queens Hatzolah’s Coordinators observed that “at one point there were 12 crews consisting of approximately 50 members out in torrential rain despite the fact that ambulances are not built to drive in deep water (baruch Hashem, none of the ambulances were damaged), saving lives and helping people on the street. Some members were experiencing damage to their own homes; nevertheless, they were out helping the community.

“Although it took a long time to reach the hospital, and some hospitals were closed, Queens Hatzolah members were literally soaked to the skin, but that did not and will not stop them from the chesed they do. They are the Navy Seals of EMS.”

We are all exposed to the lights and sirens as we watch Hatzalah members, wherever we live, drive by and respond to all types of emergencies. I – and I am sure that you, as well – recite T’hilim for both the members and the person in need. What we are not exposed to is what happens behind the scenes. The hours of planning, training, debriefing, and even follow-up with patients that takes place.

One aspect that must be mentioned and that few are aware of, is the “night shift” rotation system. Hatzalah members volunteer (yes, volunteer) to sit in an ambulance from 1:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., awake and ready to respond immediately, no matter the weather condition. On the contrary, during a snowstorm or hurricane-like conditions, additional ambulances are manned, and Hatzalah members are taking shifts day and night for the duration of the storm to assure that calls are covered, and fewer members are put in harm’s way when attempting to respond using their personal vehicles. Rather, an ambulance with two members will be strategically stationed within our community, alert and arriving on the scene within minutes of the call for help.

Another aspect of Hatzolah of Queens & Great Neck that the public is unaware of is the amount and high quality of training required and acquired by the members during their Hatzalah career. There are two levels of Hatzalah responders. The BLS or EMTs, and the ALS or Paramedics. Every member is state certified as either an EMT or a paramedic. Besides that, Hatzalah goes one step further by internally training and “certifying” their members.

That process is the following: A new member will first bear the status of an “observer.” They will respond to a call under the supervision of senior members. The latter will guide them and teach them the important things to look out for, what questions to ask and to help them get comfortable in emergency situations.

After taking approximately 50-70 calls, the “observer” is upgraded to a “backup unit.” Here, he will be responding as a second responder, and after the senior member has responded. Since the “backup unit” has more extensive experience, they will be encouraged to assume scene command. With every second counting and decisions to be made that will determine the patient’s future, this is a very important step in the process. As a “backup unit,” the member must still take another 50-70 calls plus a written and oral exam. Only then is he upgraded to a “first responder.” As a first responder, the member will be fully qualified to control just about any emergency. Only at this point are they actually qualified to drive an ambulance. This “upgrading process” applies to the paramedic level, as well.

Perhaps now you can understand Hatzalah’s perspective. “EMTs are the first line of defense, and the paramedics bring the hospital to the patient.” The EMTs identify and stabilize the potential life-threatening situation, preventing the matter from deteriorating further. The paramedics are the ones who administer advanced medications and much, much more.

Hatzalah’s members are always equipped with the most advanced and efficient lifesaving equipment available. They can deal with a simple paper cut all the way to childbirth and beyond. The Coordinators are constantly searching for and evaluating the new and innovative lifesaving equipment as soon as it becomes available. They look for the best possible means to ensure that the volunteers can help members of the community in the best possible way.

The aforementioned are but a few of the “behind-the-scenes” of Hatzolah of Queens & Great Neck’s extensive efforts to serve the community. I will close with a truly heartfelt description of what Queens Hatzolah means to every member of the community: “I get to sleep sound at night because I know that Hatzalah members everywhere are awake looking out for us. Baruch Hashem for Hatzalah.”

This year, the annual Shabbos Hatzalah campaign is on Shabbos Parshas VaYeitzei, November 13. Please show your support by visiting their website www.queenshatzolah.org  and donating to Hatzolah of Queens & Great Neck. Let’s come together and help them to help us!

 By Susie Garber