By Ben Tinsley
ARLINGTON — Thirteen firefighters from fire departments across the country were honored last week for their service to Israel during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
The firefighters were joined by very enthusiastic family members and colleagues — including appreciative Israeli officials — during the special Oct. 15 ceremony at the Arlington Fire Training Center.
These firefighters were sent to Israel through the Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP), a nonprofit organization created a few years back to train American firefighters in Israeli firefighting methods.
Billy Hirth, an Arlington firefighter, was one of the 13 people who helped provide first response service to Israel last summer. Also volunteer EVP director of operations, Hirth was quoted quite a bit by the American and Israeli media about his experiences in Israel and the hard work of EVP members.
At the Oct. 15 ceremony, Hirth told audience members he was proud to see the colleagues, friends and family in the room to provide support.
“I’m appreciative of this,” he said. “But I’m more appreciative of the fact we have so much common bonding here — the love of Israel. That is what it is all about.”
EVP recruits volunteers from both Jewish and Christian communities to work alongside other emergency teams in the quest to help Israeli civilians.
Before volunteers depart for Israel, they undergo specialized training programs in order to work with Israeli equipment and understand Israeli procedure.
During the ceremony, EVP General Director Adi Zhavhi noted that there were a lot of unknowns when the program first was established.
“The Emergency Volunteers Project was like a dream — something no one believed could happen,” Zhavhi said. “I didn’t believe I would be here with over 100 people in a room saluting firefighters and having Israeli fire chiefs flying — from Israel — to thank them.”
Indeed, there were several Israeli fire officials in the room to pay tribute to their colleagues, referring to them as “brothers” several times.
After an impromptu prayer by Rabbi Levi Gurevitch of Chabad of Arlington, the audience in the packed room watched several videos and media clips documenting the impact of the help provided to Israel.
A few of the firefighters from out of town couldn’t make the ceremony. But the complete roster of those who volunteered during Operation Protective Edge includes:
- Battalion Chief Jeff Miller: Mesquite Fire Department.
- Firefighter Joe Baker: Mesquite Fire Department.
- Driver/Engineer Scott Harrell: Mesquite Fire Department.
- Firefighter Billy Hirth: Arlington Fire Rescue.
- Fire Investigator Scott Schultes: New Paltz Fire Department.
- Apparatus Operator Tony Santoro: Rockwall Fire Department.
- Chief Rick Nessner: Combine Fire Department.
- Specialist John Nickles: Austin Fire Rescue.
- Firefighter Bret Holland: Myrtle Beach Fire Department.
- Firefighter Rimon Reshef: New Hyde Park Fire Department.
- Firefighter Ben Arnold: Los Angeles Fire Department.
- Firefighter Robert Katz: Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.
- Firefighter Jason Goldstein: Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.
Bob Goldberg, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, noted that these firefighters who dedicated their time and skill to the EVP effort “share a moral compass” with all who love and defend Israel.
“I would say that we achieved good goals,” he said. “We helped save lives in Israel.”