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10 Oct 2017

On a hot August night in Jerusalem, a motorcycle with flashing lights sped past our outdoor dining table. It looked like an emergency pizza delivery. The motorcycle was actually a United Hatzalah motorcycle ambulance, or “ambucycle” as they are known. 

The story of this service and how is originated is an example of innovative emergency health care that some other cities around the world are now adopting.

United Hatzalah is a not-for-profit entity that provides emergency medical care to all people regardless of ethnicity or religion. It was founded by Eli Beer, a former Jerusalem ambulance officer.

As a teenager, Eli Beer witnessed a terrorist attack on a domestic bus and saw traditional ambulances stuck in urban traffic, arriving too late to save some victims. Anyone who has been to a major city, especially in the Middle-East, Asia and the sub-continent which were not designed for the influx of millions of motor vehicles, buses and trucks, would be familiar with the type of traffic chaos that can leave ambulances stuck in ‘jams’.    

At a young age, Eli Beer began what is now United Hatzalah, a community-based medical responder model. He didn’t invent this concept, but he was the first person to turn it into a free national model. United Hatzalah services includes a fleet of specially equipped "ambucycles" that are fitted with almost everything a traditional ambulance carries except for a backboard, stretcher, chair, and bed. Ambucycles have an average response time of three minutes. The 3000 plus medics operating these motorcycles are now Israel’s primary first responders for most medical emergencies.  The medics are all volunteers and comprise Jews, non-Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The ambucycles can easily maneuver through Jerusalem’s maze of streets and crowded pedestrian walkways, and even use non-traditional paths to reach emergencies.  They use an advanced GPS tracking technology – Moskowitz Lifecompass – that is now the basis for an app that alerts security forces when a person is in distress or kidnapped.

The advanced GPS tracking is vital because Jerusalem has a new light rail system that prevents motor vehicles from easily accessing sections of the city. Traditional ambulances are forced to negotiate narrow streets, illegally parked vehicles and cannot get into small thoroughfares and the like.   

The free services doesn’t just use ambucycles, they now have ambutractors, first responder push bicycles, an ambuboat and even jet skis that enable medics to reach patients, regardless of the environment, location or terrain.

From what I’ve read, the United Hatzalah community-based responder model is now being used in 10 countries, and there are plans to set up an operation in India soon. They say that their services, including their applications and technologies, can be downloaded by anyone for free. They also provide free transport to hospitals.

Since their inception, United Hatzalah claim to have treated over two million patients “and never once did any of them receive a bill for services” said their founder.



Published: 10 Oct 2017