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NY approves ambulance permit for Orthodox female EMTs after years-long fight

After several years of bureaucratic battles, Ezras Nashim, the emergency medical services volunteer organization that caters to Orthodox women in New York City, was granted an ambulance permit Thursday.

The 23-2 vote by the state’s Regional Emergency Medical Services Council will allow Ezras Nashim to improve and expand their operations, said Leah Freier Levine, the group’s director of outreach and development.

“We hope this is the end of the long journey,” Freier Levine said. “It’s just so exciting. It’s been so long that we’ve been dreaming of this.”

Ezras Nashim was founded in 2014 by Haredi Orthodox women in Brooklyn as a female counterpart to Hatzoloh, the 50-year-old Jewish ambulance corps, which is staffed entirely by men. Ezras Nashim’s founders, who included Judge Ruchie Frier — the mother of Freier Levine and the first Hasidic woman to hold elected office in America — felt that an ambulance service run by women would better serve religious women who would avoid being treated by male EMTs for reasons of religious modesty.

While Ezras Nashim was operational in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Borough Park and Flatbush, its activities were limited because it did not have an ambulance license. That meant, for example, that its response times were slower because it wasn’t allowed to have flashing red lights.

Hatzoloh fought against Ezras Nashim being given an ambulance license, claiming that two separate EMT services would be detrimental to the community. The Regional Emergency Medical Services Council voted to table Ezras Nashim’s permit application in November in order to further consider this issue.

Supporters of Ezras Nashim thought that Hatzoloh’s real concern was encroachment onto its turf.

“We know so many Hatzoloh members who support us but couldn’t say it publicly,” Freier Levine said. “Now that everyone knows we’re going to be approved, we’re getting so much messages — people who left because we were threatened will rejoin us.”

Ezras Nashim already has around 40 to 50 volunteers, with around 25 more in training, Freier Levine said. While the regional body’s vote is only applicable to Brooklyn, its seal of approval will allow the group to expand its operations in other parts of the state, including Monsey and the Five Towns region of Long Island, she predicted.

Correction, August 14: A previous version of this article stated that the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council is a body of New York City. In fact, it is a body of New York state.

Aiden Pink is the deputy news editor of the Forward. Contact him at pink@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aidenpink

New York state approves Orthodox female EMT service

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