Volunteer paramedics who wear long curling sideburns and black hats sat down Sunday with state agency representatives for breakfast and a side order of understanding.
The goal: coordinate efforts for the summer when the population and emergency calls rise dramatically.
On one side: the Hatzalah, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for rescue. It is an organization of trained volunteer Jewish paramedics who operate in the Catskills year-round, but grow their numbers along with the bungalow colonies. In the summer, about 175,000 Jews move to the Catskills and up to 400 Hatzalah members are among them, according to a representative of the county sheriff’s department.
On the other side: representatives from local emergency agencies and the Sullivan County district attorney’s office.
About five years ago, local agencies and Hatzalah began breakfasting together to coordinate for summer.
What was once a modest gathering of people and pastries has grown to about 120 emergency responders representing more than 30 local fire, police and ambulance-corps members, and Hatzalah.
“This meeting brings an understanding of each others’ practice, a sense of tolerance of each other’s ideas and that you have to get past the stereotypes,” said David Cohen, CEO of Hatzalah.
Before these meetings, emergency scenes were chaotic. When an accident occurred, Hatzalah responded along with other agencies. There were many people, but no one was in command.
Since the lines of communication opened, Hatzalah realized its members needed identifying uniforms. Once unmarked minivans now have laminated cards; men in black jackets now wear clearly labeled emergency vests.
Through the meetings, local firefighters and police have also gained an understanding of religious practices, such as those that bar unrelated men and women from touching.
“When you get to know people, it makes it easier to come together,” said Jim Farrell, county chief assistant district attorney.
Hatzalah coordinator Bernie Gips hopes the understanding spreads to the whole community.
“We’re here to help,” Gips said.