About 10% of the calls reaching Sahar (Hebrew acronym for Internet Support and Listening) since Friday morning’s tragedy on Mt. Meron have come from paramedics who tell the volunteers on hand that they experience great difficulty dealing with the sights they had encountered, of young and lifeless children who could not save themselves in the turmoil and hustle and bustle of the disaster scene.
Luna Ben Dayan, Sahar’s professional director, told Ma’ariv on Tuesday that the internal mechanism of rescuers drives them to fight rather than flee. “Since the disaster, we have received calls from people who were there, including rescuers. They were ostensibly trained to work in such arenas, but these are human beings, and at the moment of truth, their skills do not make them inhuman.”
Ben Dayan added: “There is a very strong influence here of the age of the victims and the degree of helplessness of the victims. The experience of the rescuers at the scene of the disaster was one of anger, guilt, and helplessness, over the children they could not save. One of them explicitly wrote: ‘Maybe I could have saved another child.’ This doubt is gnawing at their souls.”
Our friends at United Hatzalah sent us an extensive response, which we include here:
United Hatzalah volunteers played a pivotal role in the events that transpired on Friday morning in Meron. During the mass casualty incident that resulted in the death of 45 people, many of the volunteers witnessed the most traumatic scenes that they have ever come across. The sheer number of deaths in such a short time in so close a space was too much for many volunteers to bear. Some had to stop what they were doing and simply move away because the situation was too much to bear for them.
Many cried and comforted one another. The change from joy to tragedy in an instant was a shock to everyone there, as it was to the entire nation.
As this incident was severely traumatic for many responders, United Hatzalah has been addressing the issue internally. One of the responsibilities of our Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit is to provide psychological and emotional stabilization to all of our volunteers who were present at a traumatic medical emergency. The PCRU, which is made up of qualified therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, assists our volunteers and is tasked with maintaining the psychological well-being of our volunteers, in addition to providing psychological first aid at the scenes of traumatic incidents themselves.
The PCRU has been incredibly active since the incident. They held a mass debrief after the incident at Meron and all volunteers were required to attend before they left the area. In addition, starting on Saturday night, the unit has held continual group counseling sessions (12 per day) in different cities around the country in order to make sure that everyone who needs assistance is given the chance to speak about how the incident affected them. One of the most important issues in maintaining psychological and emotional well-being and one of the most important steps in avoiding a later onset of PTSD is to open up and talk about the incident quickly, while the incident is still fresh.
In addition to the group sessions, private and individual counseling is being offered as well by the unit and its senior members. These members all work in the mental health field and are first responders themselves, so they have an understanding of what the volunteers are going through.
Avi Marcus, the Head of United Hatzalah’s Medical Department which includes the PCRU, said: “People haven’t been sleeping, haven’t been eating. Some are disoriented, and we have even had wives and husbands of medics calling us and saying how worried they are about their partners who were present at Meron and have been brought to tears. There is no shame in this. It is a natural reaction to seeing such a traumatic incident. It is something that each person needs to deal with in their own way, and we as an organization, are here to help and support them in any way that we can and we will. None of our volunteers or first responders are alone in this and they know that.”
While nothing can prepare any person for this, not even a first responder—volunteer or otherwise—no one has to go through it alone. The coping and healing will take time, and the scars will likely never fully heal, but United Hatzalah and the PCRU stand with every volunteer and will make sure that everyone receives the help they need and that no one needs to go through this alone.
The organization is already setting up a fund to assist the volunteers who require additional help following the tragedy.