1. History of Hatzalah

Chevra Hatzalah was founded in the 1960’s by a small group of visionaries in the Satmar community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn who dedicated themselves to rushing oxygen to victims of sudden heart attacks or strokes. At that time a long wait for an ambulance was a common occurrence in New York City. Someone who suffered a heart attack or stroke frequently did not survive the experience. From that humble beginning sprung forth an organization which is today the largest volunteer ambulance corps in the world. Chevra Hatzalah in New York has more than a thousand volunteer EMTs and Paramedics who answer more than 250,000 calls each year with private vehicles and a fleet of more than 70 ambulances.

Hatzalah members were among the first responders to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Alongside other heroes, Hatzalah volunteers risked their lives to rescue, treat, and transport countless victims of the terrorist attack. In the process they earned great respect from their peers in the emergency service community.

Similar Hatzalah squads operate across the Hudson River in New Jersey including Lakewood, Passaic, Union City, and at the Jersey Shore. Hatzalah Volunteer Ambulance Corps of Union County soon will join them. Each New Jersey squad cooperates with the others and with Chevra Hatzalah in New York but each is a separate legal entity.

Hatzalah also spans the globe, with volunteers currently operating in Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, various cities in England, South Africa, Switzerland Belgium, and in communities throughout the State of Israel. Back to Top

2. History & Training of Hatzalah of Union County

The professionals who provide EMS services in the City of Elizabeth are top notch, but there just aren’t enough of them to go around. Often just two or three ambulances are on call covering a city of 120-thousand residents. Long waits for emergency care are common, as are extended “mutual aid” responses from surrounding municipalities when there simply is no Elizabeth ambulance available.

In Hillside, response times tend to be quicker and more reliable, but a costly bill for services rendered soon arrives in the mail.

During the autumn months of 2003, several members of the greater Jewish Educational Center (JEC) community began discussing ways to improve the current situation. The determination was the creation of a local volunteer ambulance corps modeled after Chevra Hatzalah in New York. The group held meetings, sought information and advice, found volunteers, and an organization was born.

In April, 2004, approximately two dozen volunteers began an intensive six-month course of study to become certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Twenty-one people completed the course that September, receiving the results of their final exam on the eve of the Succot holiday. The graduates were proud to learn of their accomplishment: for the first time in the history of the St. Barnabas Health Care System EMS Academy, which administered the course, 100% of the attendees passed the National Registry Examination.

Each Hatzalah EMT lives or works in our community. Each is certified nationally and by the State of New Jersey in Basic Life Support techniques, including trauma care, Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), and in the use of Automated External Defibrillators and oxygen therapy equipment. In addition, each volunteer has completed many additional hours of field training following a curriculum developed specifically for Hatzalah of Union County by New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Paramedics and EMTs. A number of members have extensive prior experience in other Hatzalah organizations. Several are additionally certified as Paramedics and Physician Assistants. Some members of Hatzalah are Medical Doctors.

The JEC community is unique in its region of New Jersey. As a unified community of Observant Jews, halachic issues often arise concurrent with the need for emergency medical services. Issues concerning Shabbat, Tzniut (modesty), and medical/ halachic questions require a great deal of sensitivity and training. Hatzalah EMTs, under the guidance of our rabbinical board, are trained to recognize and deal with these issues. Back to Top

3. Our Mission

Hatzalah of Union County is a voluntary, not-for-profit emergency medical response team. Its primary goal is to provide rapid response, rapid treatment and rapid transport when called to medical emergencies in its primary response area encompassing parts of Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle Park and Union Township.

While funding for Hatzalah of Union County will come almost exclusively from the greater JEC community, Hatzalah will, without question, provide the same high level of care to patients in its response area regardless of religious or ethnic identity.

When calls from outside our primary response area come in, dispatchers will activate the 9-1-1 system. First responders or a Hatzalah ambulance may also be directed to proceed to the scene, at the discretion of the dispatcher. Back to Top

4. How Hatzalah Works

Rapid response time is the key to successful emergency medical intervention. Volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including Shabbat and Yom Tov. This means that in an emergency, where every second counts, care is likely to arrive at your door far more quickly than ever before.

When a call comes in to the Hatzalah hotline the dispatcher will immediately ask the caller to provide the exact address and nature of the emergency, as well as a callback telephone number. It is important for callers to always wait for the dispatcher to end the call; never hang up first. The dispatcher likely will have additional questions, and in some cases might even provide first-aid directions over the phone. The dispatcher’s first priority however, is to quickly send trained responders to the scene.

Volunteers will be dispatched primarily by two-way radio, as well as by telephone at night. When a call comes in the dispatcher will broadcast the cross-streets and the general nature of the emergency and ask for the closest units to identify themselves. The first two will be given the exact address and will be instructed to respond directly in their personal vehicles. Once those first responders confirm they are on their way, the dispatcher will request additional units to proceed to the nearest Hatzalah ambulance and respond with it to the scene.

In the unlikely event that no Hatzalah member is close by, the dispatcher will send the closest available volunteer or ambulance on an “extended” response, while simultaneously activating the 9-1-1 system. Hatzalah’s goal is to consistently provide a response within two to four minutes, determined by the first patient contact. The standard EMS response time is an average of 8 to 12 minutes. Back to Top

5. When to call Hatzalah of Union County

Hatzalah should be called for all medical emergencies. If you are unsure if a call is warranted, ALWAYS call, even on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Our dispatchers are trained to help you determine if a real emergency exists.

The following are all examples of emergencies:
  • A situation requiring emergency medical treatment
  • Bandaging or splinting wounds
  • Automobile accidents
  • Cardiac emergencies (chest pains and/or discomfort)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Choking
  • Diabetic emergencies
  • Slips and falls resulting in serious injury
  • Severe allergic reactions

REMEMBER: In any situation where you think that delaying treatment would be dangerous, call Hatzalah of Union County immediately. Back to Top

6. What to do after calling Hatzalah

Rule number one is to remain calm. If the situation warrants, our dispatchers are ready and willing to stay on the line with you to “talk you through” whatever medical emergency you are confronted with.

As a preliminary matter, always make sure that you identify your location as specifically as possible. Always ensure that your address is visible from the street, especially at night. A well-lit entrance will help our volunteers find you as quickly as possible.

If you are alone, stay with the patient. If someone else is with you, have that person wait outside to greet the first responders when they arrive on the scene. Back to Top

7. Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Why does our community need Hatzalah?

Answer: Rapid response, rapid treatment, and rapid transport are the essential components of successful Emergency Medical Services intervention. The presence of Hatzalah in our community substantially increases the likelihood that, when needed, our trained first responders will be on scene providing necessary life saving treatment quicker than was possible ever before.

Question: Do I have to be a member of the Hatzalah in order to utilize its services?

Answer: No! Hatzalah of Union County will respond to any call for help within its primary response area.

Question: Is there any charge for the services that Hatzalah provides?

Answer: No! There is never any charge for our services. Hatzalah of Union County is completely dependent on the generous donations of caring members of our community and those who value the chesed we do.

Question: What does “Hatzalah” mean?

Answer: “Hatzalah” is the Hebrew word for rescue. For over 40 years Hatzalah members have been rescuing fellow Jews and others in need of emergency medical treatment. Back to Top

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