Racing Death in the Promised Land - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Racing Death in the Promised Land

Racing Death in the Promised Land

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

SourceNati Shohat/Flash90


Because dying while waiting for an ambulance is among the scariest ways to go.

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

In dense urban traffic, trying to pull off a speedy rescue, what’s an ambulance to do? One option is to honk relentlessly or expect cars to pull to the side — as they should. Another option, as imagined by a group in the Promised Land, is to hop on a motorcycle.

United Hatzalah of Israel has equipped a fleet of 300 ambucycles, staffed by volunteer EMTs who are the fastest emergency first responders in Israel. The group hopes to take the ambucycle movement global. They can make it through most cities in 90 seconds flat (even quicker in Jerusalem, where the group is based), compared with a 13-minute wait time for an ambulance in Israel and eight minutes in the U.S., explains United Hatzalah spokesperson Daniel Katzenstein. “When you have a spurting arterial bleed, you don’t have minutes,” he says. “You only have seconds.”

At $36,000 a pop, the ambucycles are stocked with oxygen masks, EpiPens, resuscitation kits, portable defibrillators and other tools that can treat and stabilize patients before an ambulance arrives for transport. It’s basically “everything but the stretcher,” says Eli Beer, president and founder of United Hatzalah. Beer’s 2,500 volunteer paramedics tackle everything from delivering babies in the back of Jerusalem cabs to treating victims of missile attacks near the Gaza Strip.

Ambucycles have already spread to Brazil, Panama, Lithuania and Ukraine, and we might soon see them in the U.S. in Jersey City, New Jersey. But not everyone believes that these ambucycles can be easily integrated with existing medical emergency systems. Capt. Kobi Harush, a security coordinator in Sderot, Israel, has dealt with many moments of confusion when there are too many helping hands on the scene — there are ambucycles, security staff, doctors and other medical personnel, plus normal ambulances bearing another cadre of EMTs. 

Still, Harush and others would rather have more than less. Harush’s city lies less than a mile away from Gaza and is a constant target for rocket attacks from Hamas. Bottom line, Harush’s job is to evacuate injured people and work in tandem with United Hatzalah to do so. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of practice,” he adds.

The motorcycles have one additional advantage: Rabbis of the biggest synagogues in Jerusalem want the bikes to be able to do their work every day of the week — including the day of rest. The extra working day doesn’t bother Beer: “We’re the only religious people who can drive on Shabbat.”

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