As Conflict in South Intensifies Newly Graduated Psychological First Responders and Inaugurated Volunteer House Open to Provide Aid

As the veil of conflict once again falls on Israel’s southern area and the city of Sderot, United Hatzalah of Israel has increased its presence in the conflict zone by opening a new volunteer house and graduating a new course of Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit volunteers in the city and region.

The inauguration of the new volunteer house took place on Thursday when the grand opening of the refurbished building was celebrated with the hanging of the Mezuzot on the walls and entrances.

The building, which is reinforced and capable of withstanding a rocket attack, will serve as the volunteer headquarters of the expanding unit in the city. In addition, it will also serve as an education and recreational center for future EMT training courses as well as a cultural center for the volunteers in the city and surrounding region of the Gaza periphery.

Founder and President of United Hatzalah Eli Beer said: “It is very important at this time of heightened tension and conflict in the area that we show the people of Sderot and the Gaza periphery that not only do we support them in their struggles, but we are investing the best kind of resources that we have, human resources, into making sure that they have as fast an emergency medical response time as possible. That means we need to train more volunteers, send more equipment and build more infrastructure here in Sderot. That is exactly what we are doing.”

The building was inaugurated in the presence of family members of Effy Gadassi, the United Hatzalah volunteer ambucycle driver who was killed in a motor vehicle accident last June on his way to provide aid at a medical emergency. The new building houses a wall of remembrance for Effy including a quote from him about the importance of volunteering which reads: “We sacrifice of ourselves so that others may live.”

In addition to the new building in the city, United Hatzalah recently graduated a new group of psychological first aid responders who will become part of the national Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit. The unit is tasked with providing emotional and psychological first aid stabilization to anyone who is suffering emotional or psychological shock or distress following a traumatic incident. “Our unit is comprised of a two-tiered system,” explained Avi Steinherz, the Training and Education Director of the Unit. “We have regular EMTs or paramedics in the field who are trained to provide a psychological response in the field, and we have a second level, our ALS level responders made up of professional psychologists, therapists, and social workers, who head to emergency scenarios that have been pointed out by our EMS responders as being traumatic scenes in which a person is suffering severely from emotional or psychological distress. In places such as Sderot, that have a long history of general trauma due to continued rocket fire and accompanying Red Alert sirens, the trauma from each individual situation can be compounded tenfold and the work of our volunteers in this area is of utmost importance.”

Steinherz added that even in cases where no physical injuries occur, such as a rocket attack where the explosion takes place in an open area, there can be significant emotional trauma caused by the siren and the emergency run for shelter that residents need to undergo. The 18 new Psychotrauma responders hail from as far south as S’de Boker and as far north as Ashkelon. They will be providing coverage for the entire region and have been known to travel for up to an hour in each direction to provide care for those who need their services.

“It is with the memory of Effy in mind that the organization makes the commitment to do everything in our capacity to provide the vital emergency medical and psychological response that is needed for the residents of this area,” Beer said. “Every person, no matter where they live, or what they may be facing, needs to know that they are not facing it alone. We will be there for them during the worst of times and give them all the help that they need to get them through it,” he concluded.

Volunteer House in Sderot:

The Effy Gadassi remembrance wall:

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