Squad leader claims ‘harassment’

22 05 2008

Letter says Jewish group not up to code

PASSAIC — The city has told one of two Passaic-based Orthodox Jewish volunteer ambulance squads that it must shut down because the squad isn’t up to city code.

But the squad’s founder called the city’s action “harassment” and questioned why the other Jewish squad wasn’t scrutinized.

On Monday, the city sent a letter signed by its law firm, Scarinci & Hollenbeck, to David Kaplan, 26, founder of Hatzolah EMS of North Jersey, saying the squad wasn’t in compliance with city law.

The letter said Hatzolah must shut down operations by the end of the day on May 19 if it did not fulfill the requirements of proving that all volunteers are qualified and that the squad has insurance that covers any legal action against the city up to $2 million. The requirements are outlined in a 2004 ordinance.

Kaplan said his squad does meet city requirements and showed necessary proof to the city last September. A letter to Kaplan from former Mayor Samuel Rivera, dated Sept. 12, states that Hatzolah is qualified to provide emergency medical services in Passaic and that a certificate remains in effect for two years from that date.

But Acting Mayor Gary Schaer said to the best of his knowledge Hatzolah had not met all the city’s requirements.

Hatzolah is licensed to operate by the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, although a license is not necessary to operate, said spokeswoman Marilyn Riley.

As of Wednesday, Hatzolah had not provided documentation to the city, Kaplan said. But Hatzolah is continuing operations anyway, he said, because Kaplan believes the city’s letter is unfair and unfounded.

To complicate matters, a second Hatzolah ambulance service with a similar name — Hatzolah of Passaic/Clifton — has never been used informally by the city and is not on the list of squads the city uses. Hatzolah means “rescue” in Hebrew. The squads are local chapters of a worldwide organization that has volunteer ambulance squads in Jewish neighborhoods.

Greg Hill, the business administrator, said the city has not checked whether the second Jewish squad is violating city law. Schaer, an Orthodox Jew, said he asked Hill on Tuesday to verify that all private ambulance squads comply with city law. Passaic has only the two Hatzolahs as private squads.

The city’s paid squad, which has two ambulances, is overseen by the Police Department. When both vehicles are in use, the city calls other municipalities and private squads to ask if they can dispatch an ambulance immediately. Andy White, police spokesman, said Kaplan’s Hatzolah has been called in recent months after the Clifton squad and a private company based at Hackensack University Medical Center.

Last week, the City Council entertained a resolution that would formally add Kaplan’s Hatzolah to the city’s list of mutual aid services. But the resolution was defeated by a 3-3 tie vote. A tie means the measure is rejected.

The three Orthodox Jewish council members voted against the resolution, while the three Hispanic members voted in favor.

Schaer, who proposed the resolution, said he voted against it because he believes Hatzolah was stoking ethnic divide in the city.

“Picking up an ambulance group that’s working primarily in one part of town — I don’t think it’s a good idea, if we’re continuing our fight to unite Passaic,” Schaer said.

Kaplan said Hatzolah serves the entire city, not just Jews.

“It’s ludicrous, because the whole point of doing 911 is we service anybody. We don’t ask them, ‘Are you Jewish? Are you Orthodox?’ when someone calls,” Kaplan said. “Gary Schaer has furthered the stereotype that we only want to help ourselves.”

Hatzolah gets an average of 600 calls a year to its direct line, Kaplan said. He did not know what percentage was Jewish.

Councilman Gerardo Fernandez said he supports the squad.

“We never had a problem before. We voted for it. I voted ‘yes’ because they’re providing a service with the community. They’ve been doing it all along,” Fernandez said.

On Tuesday, Schaer said that the letter sent to Kaplan was purely out of concern for public safety.

“It’s not my personal feelings at play here. This affects the health and welfare of city residents,” he said. “What’s relevant is what’s in compliance.”

Reach Karen Keller at 973-569-7158 or kellerk@northjersey.com myheraldnews.com

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