S4 Group, Agudath Israel of Illinois, and Hatzalah Chicago commend signing of bill


S4 Group, Agudath Israel of Illinois, and Hatzalah Chicago commend signing of bill for volunteer EMS vehicles

What happens when volunteers, community leaders, local authorities, lobbyists, and legislators work together? Lives are saved.

Illinois Senate Bill 621, now Public Act 099-0040, is the result of countless hours of work by individuals and organizations committed to supporting the volunteer emergency medical services (EMS) that save lives throughout the City of Chicago. Without the cooperation of Agudath Israel of Illinois, the Chicago Police Department, state Senator Ira Silverstein, state Representative Lou Lang, and the S4 Group, Hatzalah Chicago would not be able to provide its emergency services as efficiently, to the detriment of those in need.

Hatzalah Chicago provides volunteer EMS within the City of Chicago to those who ask for it, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. All volunteers are licensed as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics by the State of Illinois. “Hatzalah brings a reassurance that your neighbors and your community are committed to achieving the best medical outcomes – whatever it takes – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Tzvi Montrose, chief operating officer of Hatzalah Chicago. “Every one of our volunteers is dedicated to this mission because nothing is more important than saving someone’s life.”

Naftali Solomon, a Hatzalah volunteer in New York City, echoed this commitment to not just providing emergency medical care, but to truly caring about community members. “The care does not end after we bring somebody to the hospital,” he explained. “We are engrained in the community, and there is constant follow-up to make sure our patients have everything they need to recover.” Mr. Solomon commended the signing of SB 621 and said that while no one can replace a city’s EMS services, Hatzalah is a crucial addition. “The difference is caring and speed,” he said. “It’s speed because we care.”

In medical emergencies, response time is critical. Consider this: within the first two minutes of cardiac arrest, there is an 80% chance of reviving the victim. The chance of revival drops by 7-10% with every passing minute after that without proper CPR. For this reason, ambulances responding to medical emergencies use attention-grabbing lights and sirens to encourage pedestrians and drivers to make way for the EMTs to save lives; for this reason, Hatzalah Chicago responders needed the ability to do the same.

Since Hatzalah’s volunteers rely primarily on their private vehicles to respond to emergency calls, they were previously hindered by the conflicting state and city laws regarding the use of lights and sirens on private vehicles. Even though the volunteers were licensed by the State of Illinois and have completed emergency vehicle operation training courses, they were previously not allowed to alert surrounding pedestrians and vehicles to the nature and urgency of their travel.

This problem was not unique to Chicago, and in fact Hatzalah has fought for the right to better serve those who call for medical assistance in several states, but they have not achieved the level of legislative success seen this session in Illinois anywhere else in the country. “This law will ensure that other motorists are aware of these volunteers and remain alert when the vehicle is en route to a call,” said Senator Silverstein. “Both the responders themselves and other drivers will be safer with the use of these lights.”

The passing of SB 621 is thus a milestone in the Hatzalah movement. Nowhere else has such a diverse group of stakeholders converged to produce an agreement that garnered the support of the entire state legislature and carved out a niche allowing Hatzalah to do what it does best: respond efficiently to emergency calls and assist those in need.

“This bill was all about saving lives,” said Representative Lang. “Rarely do we get a chance to pass a law that does so much to create a healthier community. I am proud to have been a sponsor of this new law that will enhance the ability of volunteers to make a difference.”

A bill with the same goal was introduced during the 2013-2014 legislative session, but the Illinois Department of Health strongly opposed it, effectively killing the bill. This time, with the input of the S4 Group’s John Lowder, the bill language addressed many state and city officials’ concerns, even receiving favorable public testimony from a City of Chicago representative.

The bill’s success cannot be attributed to one person or group, but rather to the coalition formed around the common goal of enabling volunteers to help their fellow Chicago residents. “Success requires the efforts of many,” said Yehiel Kalish, chief executive officer and head lobbyist at the S4 Group, “and this is proof of the good that can come of cooperation.”

S4 Group was called in by Agudath Israel of Illinois to take Hatzalah’s legislative effort to the next level. Simcha Frank, chief executive officer of Hatzalah Chicago, lauded the movement on this bill and said, “The bipartisan support given to this bill by the governor’s office and statewide lawmakers is a great acknowledgement of our volunteers’ efforts, and it means a lot to them. We are very grateful to all who helped us through this process.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Ehrman, chief operating officer of Agudath Israel of Illinois, applauded Governor Rauner for “living up to a campaign promise and signing this bill.” He added, “Richard Goldberg, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, was a critical asset to the passage of this bill, and we look forward to working with him over the next number of years.”

Celebration over this achievement is not limited to the Chicago community, but rather, as Rabbi Kalish said, “This is good for the world Hatzalah movement.”