U.S. firefighters help out in Israel

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Thirty-nine firefighters from across the United States temporarily left their jobs and families last week — and gave up their Thanksgiving weekend —  to help tame the wildfires that swept through Israel. And most of them weren’t even Jewish.

“We’re just firefighters,” said Billy Hirth, a Protestant who retired last year after a 24-year career as a firefighter in Texas.

“When guys hear about a situation like this one, where the Israelis are working as hard as they can, they want to come help,” Hirth said.

On Nov. 25, Israel’s Public Security Ministry requested help from the Emergency Volunteers Project, a network of more than 950 U.S. volunteers and professional first responders.The next night, U.S. firefighters started arriving at Ben Gurion Airport.

Though most of the fires were coming under control at that point, some of the U.S. firefighters went to work battling the remaining wildfires and those that flared up Nov. 27. Others chipped in on routine calls, as Israeli firefighters needed relief.

 “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad press for Israel,” said Elan Raber of the Los Angeles fire department. “So I hope to show that people are willing to drop everything to show solidarity with the people of Israel.”  — jta