If, God forbid, you had to call 911, who would arrive in the ambulance? If you were in the northern New Jersey communities of Teaneck and Bergenfield, there’s a greater than half chance that it would be an Orthodox Jew! These Bergen County towns rely exclusively on volunteers for their ambulance services (TVAC and BVAC ). Despite the large Orthodox Jewish communities in these towns, they make up only a small percent of the entire population of the area.
Ryan Shell, Captain of BVAC is proud of the fact that he is one of many observant Jews who are working to make a difference in the community at large. “That’s the gadlus of TVAC & BVAC. We have so many frum volunteer EMT’s, and our calls are mostly from non-Jews.” Sometimes the volunteers have the chance to make a huge kiddush Hashem, and even change people’s perception of who Orthodox Jews can be.” There is often a perception out there that the Orthodox only care about their own. A few months ago, Shell and another frum EMT responded to a non-Jewish man who collapsed in the middle of a shopping center parking lot. “We pulled up and saw him on the ground surrounded by about 40 people. We did CPR on him and transported him to the ER where he made a full recovery…I can only hope that the larger community sees how much the Jewish community cares about them.” The frum participation in the Corps has helped contribute to good community relations in the area. Shell has even seen potential anti-Semites react in unexpected ways. “Literally everyday we are presenting such a different picture to the world. I have gone into a man’s house and treated him with Nazi propaganda all around him. I can only guess what the impact was on him.”
Volunteer Ambulance Corps are popular throughout the country, as that the majority of first responders and EMS are volunteer. Community funding is often necessary to support this crucial but expensive service. TVAC are BVAC are no exception. “We always talk about making a kiddush Hashem and what it means to integrate with the outside community and live the ideals of Modern Orthodoxy. These corps are the best way to put those ideals into practice.” Secular Jews and non-Jews work alongside both Teaneck and Bergenfield’s teams of approximately 150 people making the effect the more than 50% frum volunteers have on even their coworkers important.
“Most people are shocked to find out that we’re volunteers or that we don’t get government funding.” The fact that TVAC and BVAC run entirely on donations is a testament to the support they get from the wider community. Shell, who has been an EMT since he was 16, along with his Teaneck counterpart Rabbi Danny Senter, encourage volunteer EMTs to join them as well. “You can join as young as 16. Our older members end up taking young ones under their wing. You might grow up fast since you [would be] exposed to things you normally just talk about: Modern Orthodoxy, life and death. Here, from a young age, you’re actually living it firsthand. “Even when we’re not on duty, we all have our radios with us.”
There are currently five ambulances in service in Teaneck and four in Bergenfield, and every time they respond to a call, a police car is dispatched alongside them. The police officers all carry oxygen and defibrillators and know first aid, in case they arrive first during a life-threatening emergency. “That’s also another great thing about the rest of the emergency services community. They see the involvement that the frum community has.”
This past Shabbos TVAC and BVAC brought awareness to the Jewish community by coming to or having the rabbis address the topic in every shul in the area. Congregants had an opportunity to meet and talk with the volunteers that make the service possible. “The success of this past Shabbos was clear from the outpouring of support and chizuk from the community. The rabbis have been among our biggest supporters, enthusiastically declaring their support for the local ambulance squads.”
Cover image: the leadership of TVAC and BVAC (L to R= Rabbi Daniel Senter, TVAC President, Dr. Eliyahu Cooper, TVAC Medical Director; Izzy Infield, TVAC Captain; Max Farkas, BVAC Lieutenant; Ryan Shell, BVAC Captain. Photo Courtesy Ryan Shell.