Local Firefighter Helps Extinguish Israel’s Mass Forest Fires
For those who know Jerry Eizen, it’s apparent his heart is bigger than his laugh or his height — which is impressive considering he is at least 6 feet tall. He lends a hand to anyone and everyone.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising when he jumped on a plane to help fight the fires in Israel.
Eizen, now retired, worked as a firefighter for 27 years with the Farmington Hills Fire Department and Livonia Fire and Rescue. That is how he learned about the Jewish organization EVP.
“I had known about it and done my training in both Israel and Baltimore, so I was just waiting for when they needed me,” Eizen said.
The Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP) is an organization authorized by the Israeli government that trains professional and nonprofessional first responders to support Israel during an attack.
They called Eizen the night of Thanksgiving to tell him he would be going to fight the mass forest fires in Israel.
“Thursday evening I was going on standby and started getting my things together,” Eizen said. “Friday morning I received an email saying to get ready because flight info was on its way.”
Eizen is married to Becky and father to three boys, Sander, Ari and Micah. Although they were all a little overwhelmed by the situation, they jumped in to help him get ready.
“It was pretty chaotic,” recalls Micah, who attends Farber Hebrew Day School with Ari. Sander is a University of Michigan student. “I was proud of him, but we were nervous because it is dangerous there and we knew what was going on at the time.”
Answering The Call
The Oak Park firefighter landed in Israel on Nov. 27, still in disbelief that he was actually there to help. Eizen, along with 38 other EVP members, was dispersed throughout many bases to help in any way possible.
“We went on fire runs for the Israelis so they could take a break, and we also cleaned up areas so they could rest,” Eizen said. “We weren’t guests; we were firefighters willing to get things done for them.”
Fourteen countries besides the United States were represented in Israel throughout the week to help fight 80-90 percent of the catastrophic fires. Israel had a very dry and hot summer, which made fires easy to start. Eizen added that many sets of fires were started by terrorists. The IDF was able to catch three individuals involved.
“It was amazing we were able to get the fires out. They saved hundreds of people, and nobody died from any of the fires,” Eizen said.
He did talk about the devastation, including the remains of a home where an Auschwitz survivor had lived in Haifa. After the fire, everything was lost, including some items she had from the Holocaust.
Once the fires were put to rest, a closing ceremony took place where all the firefighters gathered before their departure home.
Eizen was overwhelmed by it all but for a reason one might not think of.
“After almost 30 years of working as a firefighter, I thought I was the only Jewish one,” said the Young Israel of Oak Park member. “There were times in Michigan where I had to find a little corner to daven so I wouldn’t bother anybody. Not in Israel. There were so many Israeli firefighters and places connected to the station to pray. We even had enough people participating to form a minyan.”
Eizen returned to the U.S. on Thursday, Dec. 1, reuniting with his family before the holidays. Although he returned to his Michigan home, he says his heart will always be Israel.
“It is my homeland,” he said. “I would do anything for Israel. The land needs to be safe for anyone to live there. I thank HaShem for 30 years of experience so I could repay Him for protecting the land He gave us.” *
The EVP is a nonprofit organization and relies on donations. If you would like to know more, visit www.EVP.org.il.