According to its website, Hatzolah of Los Angeles was established in 2001 to “enhance pre-hospital care and develop a higher level of emergency preparedness and support in the Los Angeles Jewish Community,” because “in emergency medical situations where every second counts, community members deserve to have access to the best possible care.”
Hatzolah’s goal is to be permitted to transport patients and respond with ambulances to emergency calls using lights and sirens (Code 3 practice) like the LAFD. But that’s not a message that sits well with the LAFD, whose Chief, Ralph Terrazas, on Jan. 17 sent a letter to Cathy Chidester, director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, saying that allowing Hatzolah to dispatch its own ambulances to emergencies without permission from the city fire department creates a “significant public safety risk,” according to a Los Angeles Times Sunday report by Leila Miller (Is there room in L.A. for an Orthodox Jewish ambulance service? City fire says no).
According to Miller, California law allows county emergency medical services to create “exclusive operating areas,” where ambulance providers can operate. The county can either conduct a competitive process to select providers or select existing providers, like the LAFD. Today, out of 31 licensed ambulance companies in Los Angeles, only the LAFD can respond Code 3 to 911-type calls.
If Hatzolah receives a license, it would be permitted to transport patients during non-emergencies anywhere in the county except Los Angeles.
Chidester said the county license would allow Hatzolah to transport non-critical patients to or from a medical facility but disallow performing more than basic life support, such as CPR, or transporting patients during medical emergencies, such as a stroke or a heart attack.
In another letter, Freddy Escobar, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, said his union had received many complaints from its members about unauthorized responses by Hatzolah and groups like it.
The LAFD Asst. Chief, Ellsworth Fortman, said that Hatzolah does not meet the standards for responding to medical emergencies, suggesting that “one day it might get there,” but insisting that “to be OK with anyone else stepping in and doing it, at the minimum, they would have to provide the same level of service.”
At one recent hearing about Hatzolah’s licensing, in Santa Fe Springs, Capt. Terry Millsaps of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said Hatzolah’s dispatch manual would have to undergo significant revisions if the group wants to receive an ambulance license. He complained that the manual is presents Hatzolah as a 911 service, which it isn’t. He also disagreed with Hatzolah’s practice of alerting 911 to emergencies and at the same time sending its own responders to a scene—without authorization, supposedly in violation of the county code.
Unlike the LAFD, Hatzolah members are trained in emergency medicine-related Jewish law, and with an understanding of the unique needs of their community. They are sensitive to cultural considerations among their Jewish-Orthodox neighbors and can direct patients to go to the hospital when they may not otherwise go. And volunteers who speak Hebrew, Yiddish or Farsi occasionally support the LAFD as impromptu translators.
LA Hatzolah chairman, Rabbi Shmuel Manne, is optimistic. He is aware that practically every Hatzolah branch anywhere in the US was first entangled in a turf war with local providers. “Obviously, we don’t want to replace the fire department…” he told the LA Times. “Other cities have worked it out,” he said.