Our ambulance-chasers

Our ambulance-chasers

For the JC May 2021

There are those who say Arye Myers must have a charmed life. The Bradford-born Myers, who made aliya nine years ago, is the only paramedic working for Magen David Adom who previously worked for the London Ambulance Service.

In London, Myers was working for the LAS during the tragic events of July 7 2005, or “7/7”, when terrorist suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 civilians. In Israel, where he has worked for MDA for eight and a half years, he has come under a different sort of attack — most recently under fire from Hamas rockets sent from Gaza, and dodging firecrackers thrown near his ambulance during the civil unrest in Lod.

“These are extraordinary times, very challenging”, says Myers. He and his crews found themselves manning their ambulances clad in bulletproof vests and helmets, as well as frequently carrying up to 30 kilos of equipment when they got out to deal with patients.

He is one of about 2,500 full-time employees with MDA — the majority of those on the ambulances are volunteers.

“On top of the rocket attacks from Gaza, we had to deal with civil unrest in the mixed cities like Lod and Akko. Some of the crew came under very serious threat. Luckily, my ambulance wasn’t directly targeted, though while we were dealing with a patient there were firecrackers directed towards us. We weren’t injured and the ambulance wasn’t damaged, but some ambulances were almost destroyed.”

On a few occasions, Myers says, “We came under rocket fire and missile attacks and we had to take cover. In the past — not in this round of fighting, but previously — I was involved in trying to resuscitate someone and we came under a barrage of rockets, forcing us to take cover in one of the safe rooms”.

Usually a shift is eight hours, though as a paramedic Myers often works 16-hour shifts. “But when the level of threat was so high, when the rocket attacks were underway, in between shifts I had an ambulance with me at all times as well — in order to respond to any major incident that might occur.”

In addition to the fighting, Myers also found himself on call in dealing with the major incident earlier in May at Givat Ze’ev on he eve of Shavuot. This was the calamitous collapse of seating at the Karlin Stolin synagogue, not far from Jerusalem.

“It took me 15 minutes to get there and by the time I did, there were dozens of ambulances on the scene. There were mass casualties — some light, some serious, and, sadly, two deaths. Access to the site was via very narrow roads and the ambulances were driving in circles. I ended up as the logistical controller, directing the ambulances where they were needed. Unfortunately in Israel we are very practised at dealing with major incidents, and everyone has a role — some people will be dealing directly with patients, some will be transporting, and so on”.

It’s a well-rehearsed process, says Myers, and in the case of Givat Ze’ev the more severely injured patients were on their way to hospital relatively quickly.

Though he is based in Lod, like most of MDA’s staff and volunteers Myers can be asked to attend incidents all over the country. His home is in Modi’in, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. During the most recent fighting he was on shift when the town came under rocket fire: “My family was at home, and I was at work — it’s fairly disconcerting to have that at the back of your mind, we’re trying to treat patients and at the same time we have families that we are worrying about. It can be daunting, and we do take what precautions we can — but yes, it can be scary”.

The civil unrest, Myers says, has died down considerably “and things are much calmer. But there’s a lot of unease in the city, that prided itself on coexistence. If you look at Lod ambulance station where I work, there is a great mix of Jews, religious, non-religious, Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs, working and volunteering all within MDA, and all providing the same sort of care. And it’s been something we’ve had to work through professionally and privately — a lot of people have found that their homes have been under attack during these riots, and are finding it very difficult to get back to some sort of normality. We have to work to rebuild that trust that’s been lost along the way”.

Like Arye Myers, Uriel Goldberg is a British immigrant to Israel. Born and brought up in Hendon, north-west London, he attended Hasmonean School and arrived in Israel on his gap year, during which time he attended yeshiva and volunteered for MDA.

At the end of his gap year he didn’t go back to London, instead making aliya, doing his army service, and then joining MDA as an instructor. He’s now done six years with MDA as a volunteer, and four years as an employee. Last year he had “a Corona wedding” — having met his wife in the organisation, where she worked as a dispatcher.

Now Goldberg works for MDA as a paramedic and a member of its international relations department, often serving as the interface between MDA and foreign journalists.

Normally, he is based at Kiryat Ono, but during the most recent fighting he was working in Ashkelon in the south of the country — one of the places most targeted by Hamas rockets.

“This time it was much more intense, the barrages were much stronger, more rockets actually landed. Very often, we would be on the way to a scene and there would be a red alert, with rockets being fired while we were en route or trying to treat a patient. It was much scarier and much more stressful, very difficult to work. We were actually risking our lives — people were running away from rockets, but we were running towards them”.

Around the second day of the fighting, Goldberg says, “we were driving down to the south and we had to stop about six times, get out of the ambulance and lie on the ground while the rockets were exploding over our heads. There were so many rockets — and many that were not caught by the Iron Dome”.

Like Arye Myers, Goldberg speaks of having to wear necessary protective equipment, carry medical kit, and often carry patients to the waiting ambulances. “It’s hard work, hot… but that’s what we do, we have to save lives”. Arye Myers says a paramedic’s career in the UK can be relatively short, but that in Israel, and in MDA in particular, there are people in their 60s still doing the work. “As long as you’re fit, there’s no reason that you can’t continue”, he says.

Magen David Adom first began as an idea — an emergency service for the Jewish soldiers of Palestine — in 1915. But its more recognised founding date is June 1930, predating the founding of the state of Israel. It operates a state-of-the-art emergency medical service and a blood bank service; its fleet includes ambulances, medicycles, electric vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, Segways and even helicopters. The organisation is fiercely proud of its technological advances — the latest of which is an app sending blood information ahead of the patient’s arrival to the cardiology department in hospital.

  • 7 June, 2021