Female Israeli emergency first responders hold mass casualty exercise

Drill ‘will be vital to them should they ever face such a scenario in the field,’ says United Hatzalah president.


A terrorist has opened fire on a bus full of civilians, hitting the driver. The bus crashes into other vehicles, leaving 50 people wounded, some critically.

In just minutes, with lights and sirens blaring, women from different backgrounds from all over Israel converge on the scene, wearing protective vests and helmets, in specially equipped motorcycles, ambulances and private vehicles.

The first to arrive on the scene, they cut through the fire and smoke and quickly assess the wounded. They categorize and stabilize them and arrange for transport to hospitals.

While the prospect of such an attack is very real, this scenario was a simulated, “mass casualty incident” drill, which United Hatzalah of Israel held in Janana Park in Jerusalem, just days after Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s 75th birthday.

“We are the only Hatzalah in the world that incorporates women into the EMT team,” said Raphael Poch, United Hatzalah international spokesman and digital media manager and himself an emergency medical technician.

Hatzalah began including women in its program in 2006. Some 1,300 of its current 6,500 volunteers are women—some 20%.

Hatzalah prides itself on being the largest independent, nonprofit, fully-volunteer organization of its kind, which it says provides the fastest, free emergency first-response medical care throughout the country. It does not receive government funding.

Holzer and two of her daughters participated in the drill. One is an EMT on a Magen David Adom ambulance and a Hatzalah volunteer, and the other played a “victim,” complete with make-up to simulate real injuries. “It’s her third time, and she loves it,” said Holzer.

Two years ago, Holzer helped secure 100 “victims,” but this time, since it was for just women and girls, she only needed to help recruit 40. Children from Bet Shemesh schools love to participate, according to Poch.

With a recent rise in terror attacks, Hatzalah has been on a mission to train all its volunteers to respond to mass-casualty events, Eli Beer, the nonprofit’s founder and president, stated in a release.

“We’re proud to say that Friday’s drill was a success, and all of the female volunteers who participated were able to gain hands-on knowledge of how to respond quickly and effectively to the scenario we presented,” he added. The group worked together successfully as a team, and the experience “will be vital to them should they ever face such a scenario in the field.” Beer stated.

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The drill also included one of Hatzalah’s helicopters. A pilot flew one of the critically “injured” participants to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, where hospital staff practiced receiving a “patient” from a medevac copter.

In the simulation, victims without pulses or who weren’t breathing wore black tags. Volunteers grouped those very critically “injured” together, and instead of performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, they put CPR masks on participants to indicate how they would treat the latter.

Dr. Joel and Adele Sandberg, parents of former Facebook and Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg, who helped launch Hatzalah’s women’s initiative, attended the drill. Also present were many of those who donated 75 ambucycles and 75 e-bikes to Hatzalah marking Israel’s 75th anniversary.

“Our donors are partners in lifesaving in every sense of the word,” said Dov Maisel, Hatzalah vice president of operations.

In the next five years, Hatzalah hopes to double its number of female volunteers.