Rocket strikes on Tel Aviv. Thunderous explosions and toppled buildings. In the aftermath, the screams of sirens and the cries of the wounded, choked with dust, wedged in or buried beneath piles of rubble. Over the din the wail of one woman, bloodied and filthy, utterly inconsolable by the urban search and rescue teams in their orange vests and yellow hats.
None of this was actually happening, but the participants lent the scenario an adrenaline spiking sense of realism: These wounded were volunteers, these toppled buildings piles of rocks at the Patapsco Natural Stone Quarry in Marriottsville. Sunday afternoon, the quarry served as a training site for the Baltimore region’s Emergency Volunteers Project team, or EVP.
“The EVP is a mutual aid cooperation between Israeli and American firefighters to backfill the Israeli Fire Department when their resources are depleted,” said Scott Goldstein, captain of the Pikesville volunteer fire company and regional EVP leader. It’s really a matter of man and woman-power and logistics.
“To put it in perspective, the country of Israel is about 8 million people, with about 1,200 firefighters,” Goldstein said. “Baltimore County where I’m from is 1 million people with 2,500 firefighters. That’s a huge difference.”
Paramedics, doctors and other medical volunteers are also involved, Goldstein said, and this year, so are teams of civilian volunteers.
“They would be helping distribute water, food, whatever it is that is needed anywhere from the West bank into Israeli proper,” Goldstein said. “At the end of the day, if the need arises, these folks will be called upon to, in 24 hours, to pack up for two weeks and go.”
Goldstein first became involved with the Emergency Volunteers project in 2014, going to Israel on a medical deployment during the Gaza conflict, and again last November to help fight fires. On Sunday, he worked hard to setup a training scenario for the new volunteers that would prepare them for the sorts of challenges they could face in a deployment.
“Right now they are practicing collapsed buildings and extricating the victims,” Goldstein said during the training exercise. “That will culminate in them rescuing victims, treating them and doing a full blown, what we would consider a mass casualty drill.”
An urban search and rescue drill, in other words, which happens to be the right up the alley of Lt. Eden Keren, a 22-year-old with the IDF Home Front Command who came to Marriottsville from her home near Tel Aviv.
“My job in the IDF is to be a search and rescue instructor, so that’s what I am doing here also,” she said. “We are preparing for any scenario.”
Earlier Sunday morning, Keren her IDF colleagues had given volunteers classroom instruction at the Carroll County Public Safety Training Center in Westminster, but at the quarry, they transitioned to hands on lessons in jacking up slabs of rubble to rescue and triage victims.
This collaboration, bringing Israeli’s and American volunteers together to train in the U.S., is a brand new thing
“The EVP has been running for a long time,” Keren said. “But this is the first time soldiers from the IDF, from the Home Front Command [have] come.”
It’s a new level of cooperation that could not make Adi Zahavi, the founder and International CEO of the Emergency Volunteers Project, happier.
“It’s the partnership,” he said. “It’s the people to people thing.”
Zahavi has been part of the EMS in Israel for 24 years, responding to terror attacks in Jerusalem and beyond, and seeing first hand the need for more boots on the ground to respond to emergencies when they happen.
“Together with the friends that I have in the U.S., we decided that we would like to form some kind of relationship with the people who want to help Israel,” he said. “The United States is our best ally, so that is the perfect place to start.”
And so they did, launching the Emergency Volunteers Project in 2009, with more than 1,000 people trained since.
Sunday’s training of 50 Baltimore-area volunteers, and in particular bringing in IDF instructors, was made possible by a grant through The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, a cultural bridge between people in Baltimore and Ashkelon, Israel, according to Co-Chair Susan Flax Posner.
“We do projects that establish people-to-people connections between Israel and Baltimore. This project exemplifies that goal,” she said. “This is something that will help us help Israel and help our people feel connected.”
To feel that connection, and to be in a position to help Israel, is what drew Laura Kendel out to Sunday’s training. Her family is closely involved in the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership and her husband is a former IDF solider.
“We really like to do anything that brings us back to Israel, where we can help Israel, because we used to live there,” she said. “Any kind of connection we can maintain with Israel.”
But while many people have become involved in the Emergency Volunteers Program because of their Jewish faith or identity, Goldstein said he also receives a lot of support for his teams from evangelicals from all across the U.S. In his deployment last November, he notes, his team was protecting Israeli and Palestinian villages from rival Palestinian groups that were setting fires.
“It’s going over to protect the Holy Land,” Goldstein said. “Whether you’re are a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian, it doesn’t matter — all of our stuff is right there within three blocks of each other.”
For those interested in such a mission, Goldstein said, there’s always room for more — those interested can visit www.evp.co.il to register as a volunteer or reach out to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for more information.
“I will be looking to start recruiting immediately, and then when we get enough people to run another training here, I’ll put together another training,” he said.
Because what Israel can always use, Keren said, are people willing to help.
“In any thing that happens in Israel, we will always need more hands, more help,” she said. “If it’s Israeli hands, American hands, it doesn’t really matter.”