First Responders Without Borders

By Eva Trieger

What is your first instinct when you see a burning building? For most of us, it would be to run for safety or to call 911 to summon a Firefighter. Well, for Dana Ben Kaplan and several other Emergency Volunteer Project (EVP) workers, the reaction is the polar opposite. Not only do they race in to extinguish the fire, but they are also deployed to Israel to offer medical expertise and community support. What’s most impressive, as the name implies, they are not paid but take this on out of their love for Israel and solidarity with the Jewish people.

EVP’s main mission is to help prepare Israel to be ready for the next crisis. Sadly, this is a fact of life in Israel, but with the support of firefighters, medical professionals and community helpers, Israel is able to address situations as they arise. This organization recruits, trains and certifies volunteers who respond to crises and terrorist activities.

Authorized by the Israeli government this registered 501c3 organization acts on behalf of the State of Israel. To date, the EVP has trained over 1,800 emergency responders throughout America and Israel. This organization boasts over 64 chapters in 11 states, including 9 located in California. According to their website “ the EVP Auxiliary teams are for those who may not meet the requirements as responders, or for those who may not want to deploy to Israel in times of emergency. The EVP Auxiliary provides an opportunity for those volunteers to assist with team deployment logistics and coordination, fundraising, public speaking, and more. The EVP Auxiliary is a team of people who will provide the necessary logistics support and coordination from their home area in the US. “

In a recent phone interview, retired Santee Firefighter, Kaplan, provided details of his recent nine-day deployment to Israel for training. As a responder on the Fire Team, he was partnered with a Los Angeles-based Firefighter. Kaplan felt confident that the high standards of the Santee Fire Department had placed him in good stead, and this coupled with the top tier apparatus and equipment made it easy for him to do a good job. In order to be eligible for the EVP Firefighter training, an individual must be an active or retired Firefighter.

Donations provided airfare for these ten volunteers, most of whom are Christian men. After going the extra mile and demonstrating their commitment and dedication, the Americans deployed won compliments and feedback from the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority. For almost all of the men, this was their first time in Israel. These volunteers are on standby and are expected to be ready to deploy within 12-24 hours after receiving notification. Once they arrived, the EVP teams were dispatched to Fire Stations in central and southern Israel.

Kaplan found that the structure of the Israeli and American Fire Service have more commonalities than differences. While he had done ride-alongs all over the world when serving as an active Firefighter, he reported that he felt a special bond between the American and Israeli Firefighters. Both countries set high standards for their organization and share many tactics, strategy operations, and equipment. The Firefighters respected each other very much and learned a great deal from each other. Kaplan observed and admired the way the Israelis did things, and also felt that in some circumstances the US methods were preferable.

Much of the firefighting equipment used in Israel comes from Europe. For instance, the Israelis employ a hose connection system that is newer, lighter and more modern. Israel has a National Fire Department, whereas, Kaplan explained, the United States has separate Fire Departments in each city, country, or state. New vocabulary was required for learning to discuss the equipment in Hebrew.

The Israeli Firefighters with whom Kaplan worked while in Jerusalem had historical family roots from Morocco, Ethiopia, Israeli Arab areas, France, Tunisia, and many other countries. Dana shared that he seldom would ask someone’s origin directly, as he felt that might be impolite. While female Firefighters do exist, they are few in numbers. As impressed as Dana and his EVP Fire Team partner, Frank of the Los Angeles Fire Department, (ret.) were, they received mutual positive feedback from their Israeli counterparts for being all in. The Israelis made note of the EVP volunteers’ work ethic and professionalism.

Two other groups of Firefighters aided in some of the calls. The reserves, or miluyim, serve for about two weeks. They have completed their mandatory military duty, but are required to leave their professional lives temporarily to don orange or blue helmets to quell flames. Most of these individuals are conversant in English, likely using it in their careers. Then, there are Cadets, youngsters who would like to become Firefighters. They are in training but do not enter the structure during a fire. They are not yet in the military, but the experience may give them a leg up in a field that is as highly competitive in Israel as it is in San Diego.

Dana has been to Israel many times for vacation and has family and friends in the country. He has trained extensively in Krav Maga while in Israel, though he originally learned it at our San Diego JCC! He has traveled around Europe with the Israeli instructors teaching this unique and highly effective self-defense system. This school has remained pure, while other area studios that teach Krav Maga have evolved into gyms. He took over as the Lead Instructor at La Jolla JCC’s Krav Maga San Diego. Because of his past experience and knowledge of the culture, Kaplan was able to assist with language translations and cultural concerns while in Israel. For more information about Dana’s personal experience, he may be contacted directly at Dana@KravMagaSD.com.

While each of his visits to Israel has been meaningful and formative, Dana Ben Kaplan shared that this deployment was especially memorable. He reported the sense of unity in purpose and mutual love that the combined group of Firefighters experienced. Despite only getting between 2.5-4.5 hours of sleep a night housed within the Fire Station, the men enjoyed a Shabbat meal when two firehouses came together for the weekly observance.

During Shabbat there was an emergency that brought the Firefighters to an apartment building. As it is halachically forbidden to initiate the flow of electricity during the period, the Firemen had to climb flights of stairs and hop from balcony to balcony to get to the emergency location. Sadly, Kaplan explained that the cause of many fires is arson, a terror tool used by Arabs.

Curious to know where the funding for such an incredible organization derives, I asked Kaplan to explain. All of the monies that pay for these heroic and selfless EVP Teams come from donations. Fundraising events, such as galas and dinners, are held in the U.S., and the opportunity to adopt a Firefighter or sponsor a deployment flight is available on the website, www.EVP.org.il . Additionally, for those eager to be trained for EVP, the Jewish Federation offers a variety of dates for certification for each aspect of the team. There are multiple opportunities to become involved in protecting Israel, but supporting the training and deployment of American emergency workers is integral to the program’s success. Openings also exist for Doctors, Nurses, and other Emergency Aid Workers.

While not everyone has the flexibility, skillset or opportunity to be an emergency volunteer each of us has the capacity to provide support to a program that shows Israel how critical we find the continued existence of a Jewish Homeland. Even if your contribution cannot singlehandedly send a Firefighter, Medical Provider or Community Helper to assist, your involvement and promotion of EVP will ensure that first responders will be on hand to provide support and relief services to our Israeli brethren and those who seek to protect them.

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