Just over a week after United Hatzalah sent a mission to Puerto Rico to assist with Hurricane Fiona, the organization dispatched a second relief team, this time to assist in Florida following the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian. “This is our fastest turn-around time ever for separate missions,” said Vice President of Operations of United Hatzalah Dov Maisel as the team departed from Israel on Saturday night. “Our team from Puerto Rico just came back to Israel shortly before Shabbat and another team is heading out to Florida tonight. It makes me proud of all of our dedicated volunteers.”
This team will also be comprised mainly of members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit (PCRU), as well as a few EMTs, and its main task will be providing psychological first aid and emotional stabilization to people who have suffered due to the damage caused by Hurricane Ian. The team will also provide medical care and humanitarian assistance as needed.
“When we saw the level of damage caused by Hurricane Ian and the fact that millions of people were forced to evacuate and suffered losses and damage, we knew we had to help,” said Gavy Friedson, the Director of International Emergency Management for the organization, who led the team in Puerto Rico and will do the same in Florida. “Following the success of our mission in Puerto Rico, the team members returned to Israel while plans were already underway to send a second team to assist in Florida. It is my honor to be the team leader for both of these relief missions.”
Friedson, who was an EMT in Israel with the organization for many years, lives in Washington D.C. when he isn’t traveling in order to save lives. He often returns to Israel for continued service and re-training in order to hone his skills both as an EMT and as a team leader for disaster response. This will be Friedson’s third hurricane relief mission, and his second in Florida, after having also been a part of the relief team that was sent to assist after Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017.
Other mission veterans include; Dr. Einat Kauffman, Dr. Sharon Slater, Hadas Rucham, Yechiel Gurfein, and Nili Tover Zivan. Kauffman has been on numerous international relief missions including United Hatzalah’s mission to Houston following Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the organization’s mission to Pittsburgh following the tree of life shooting in 2018, and most recently in Moldova during the refugee crisis at the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Dr. Sharon Slater is also a veteran of the organization’s relief missions having responded to Hurricane Harvey and the Champlain Tower building collapse in Surfside, Florida last summer and Moldova. Hadas Rucham is a social worker at Laniado Hospital and was present for the relief missions in Pittsburgh, Surfside, and Moldova. They will be joined by newcomer Nili Tover Zivan, who in spite of not having been present on a previous relief mission with the organization, is an experienced social worker who works with at-risk youth in Beer Sheva. Yechiel Gurfein has been an EMT with United Hatzalah for the past six years and was one of the team leaders of Operation Orange Wings, the organization’s relief mission in Moldova. Gurfein was also in charge of a number of black-ops rescue missions that involved him and other team members going inside Ukraine to rescue and retrieve injured or ill people who required urgent medical care.
“We’re going because people are in need of help and we can’t sit idly by when this level of disaster strikes,” Maisel explained. “Over the past six years, the PCRU members have become experts in the field of providing psychological first aid and emotional stabilization in the field following any type of disaster, big or small. That is why we keep sending them out when these things take place. They were highly effective in Moldova, in previous disasters, and most recently in Puerto Rico. Their success really comes from not only providing treatment at the scene to those suffering and to the first responders who are tirelessly providing care but in giving these people tools that they can implement themselves in order to maintain their own levels of mental health and to help others do the same. They are a force multiplier of psychological first aid, and that has been proven time and again in large-scale disaster scenarios.”