An American delegation of 13 senior firefighters and officers are in Israel assisting their Israeli counterparts in extinguishing fires caused by Hamas rocket explosions.
The firefighters from Los Angeles, Texas and Washington DC, have been working around the clock in Israel’s south in extinguishing blazes and helping to find the rockets that land in open areas.
“We were all part of the massive tragedy that was 9/11. There we undertook search and rescue missions. When we heard that hundreds of rockets are falling on Israel, we decided to join forces and come and help,” firefighter 51-year-old Hirth said.
“The rocket fired by Hamas hit homes in Ashkelon, Sderot and other communities. We have already been at scenes in a number of such communities, our mission is not simple, hard and exhausting, but we must help, the situation here is insufferable.”
“I love Israel and its people — they are kind and giving. So I wanted to be helpful,” said Hirth. “My family has been very supportive, even though my wife doesn’t really want to know the details of what I’m doing.”
Hirth is here with 12 other colleagues of the Emergency Volunteers Project, a non-profit organization that trains American firefighters to operate in the Israeli environment during emergencies.
When the rockets from Gaza began to fall in Israel last week, 13 American firefighters, including Hirth, flew to Israel, funded by the Washington, DC Jewish Federation. They came from Texas, California, New York, Washington DC and South Carolina, and have been in the south since they arrived, where they will remain until a new round of firefighters arrive from the US.
It’s been an intense few days, said Hirth. So far, he’s learned a lot on the job, from fighting fire in concrete buildings to working with fewer people.
“Israelis do more with less,” he said. “This experience has helped me understand how Israeli firefighters are able to offer the same service with fewer members on the team.”
Hirth was one of the first American firefighters to join the project, first training in Texas, and then with the first group in Israel. He currently directs the project in the US, meeting with locals and making sure both sets of firefighters — in Israel and the US — have what they need.
“The brotherhood of the firefighters goes all over the world,” he said. “We’re like a family. A lot of American firefighters love Israel; they’re begging to come.”