The mountain gave up few survivors

By Rafi Beyar, December 10, 2010
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The Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa is northern Israel's largest tertiary hospital, serving more than two million people and 11 district hospitals. As such, sadly, all too often, we need to be ready to respond at a moment's notice to emergency situations, sometimes involving multiple causalities.

When we receive word of such a situation, as we did last Thursday, we immediately go on high alert.

Dozens of physicians and nurses make ready to receive the injured, some on them rushing to the campus on their days off to do whatever they can to help.

Typically, Rambam's experience of such situations is the result of wars and terrorist attacks, but it served us well when the devastating brush fire took hold in the Carmel Mountains last week, claiming the lives of 42 firemen and rescue personnel.

Alerted to expect incoming casualties, we gathered at the entrance to the casualty buildings watching a sky that was grey from smoke and trying to obtain information from anywhere we could.

Nobody knew what was happening on the mountain, and we were all worried.

In the event, with few survivors, only the most severely wounded were evacuated to Rambam. We received our first casualties at 4.20pm: the three rescue personnel, in a serious condition, were taken to our state-of-the-art intensive care unit, where they were immediately treated for burns and smoke inhalation.

Soon afterwards, Haifa's Police Chief, Deputy Commander, Ahuva Tomer - who had been trapped by the blaze while commanding her forces - was rushed to Rambam. Her burns were horrific and the circumstances of her injuries made her situation all the more tragic.

By Friday afternoon, of the three men admitted, one was in good condition, while the other two - although still seriously injured - had been stabilised.

Their families and hospital staff were cheered by a visit from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was able to see that all the injured were being treated in some of the best trauma facilities in the world.

Soon, with the financial support of our friends in Israel and internationally, we also hope to create a unique, 2,000 bed underground hospital to ensure care for Israel's northern residents whatever the eventuality.

Sadly, Ms Tomer, the highest ranking woman in the Israeli police force, lost her fight for life on Monday morning. Our fight for her colleagues, however, continues.

Rafi Beyar is director of the Rambam Health Care Campus. www.rambam.org.il

Last updated: 12:42pm, December 10 2010