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Ezras Nashim, First All Female Volunteer EMT Team, Wants An Ambulance

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The New York State Department of Health says an all-female volunteer EMT company seeking a license to operate an ambulance has been "effectively denied," but the decision can be appealed.

An all-female EMT company a contentious issue in the orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, where there has long been an ambulance service, only run by men.

When a burning pot of chicken soup spilled on her, a woman in the orthodox Jewish community who wanted to conceal her identity called the all-women emergency response team known as Ezras Nashim.

"I fell down into the chicken soup and got burned. My buttocks and my thighs," she said. "I didn't have to call any of the members of the men's organization Hatzoloh because I was so embarrassed since it was in a very private spot. It saved me a lot of shame, from being seen by males."

Shame because in the orthodox Jewish community, modesty is a fundamental value.

Men and women who are not married don't touch each other, and in public women cover their hair with wigs.

For 50 years, Hatzoloh, the male volunteer ambulance corps, has served the community, but it doesn't accept women paramedics. PBS's POV documentary film 93 Queen by Paula Eiselt profiles the upstart Ezras Nashim, a female EMT group serving women in the orthodox Jewish community in 2012, especially in emergency situations such as a childbirth or the bathroom.

"My first call, believe it or not, was a woman who fell in her shower," said Ezras Nashim volunteer Sarah Husney.

"If you're completely naked and your Hatzoloh next door neighbor shows up and then you see him on a wedding or other event, it's uncomfortable," said Ezras Nashim volunteer Leah Rubinstein.

But Hatzoloh and dozens of rabbis argue in emergency situations, Jewish law does permit male paramedics to treat women, and as a policy, a Hatzoloh member will give the call to a different paramedic if the patient is a neighbor who is uncomfortable.

Its response time is much quicker than Ezras Nashim's eight minutes, and that's why the group applied for an ambulance license. It would also permit lights and sirens in responders' vehicles.

"We have to obey the speed limit," said Ezras Nashim volutneer Charna Goldsmith.

"And to get there it doubles the time," Husney said.

Each has medical gear in their personal car, and when someone needs to go to the hospital, Ezras Nashim calls 911 and an FDNY ambulance transports them.

"The Fire Department, they're wonderful, they're great, but some of the ladies still prefer, why don't you have your own ambulance," Husney said.

"Because this application did not receive enough votes to be approved at the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council meeting, it was effectively denied. There is an opportunity for the applicant to appeal to the State Emergency Medical Services Council," the Department of Health said in a statement.

"Having multiple volunteer EMS services operating in and servicing the same community will cause confusion as to whom to call in an emergency, thereby causing delays," rabbi Yechiel Kaufman testified at a previous hearing.

"People have a choice to call us. We're not trying to take over or force anybody to call us," Goldsmith said.

"We don't have a problem with Hatzoloh. They are doing an amazing job, but do you have room for women? Can we do this together?" Rubinstein said.

CBS2's Lisa Rozner tried contacting some of the people who previously spoke out against this license, but they did not return our calls or messages.

"We're going to still do it. The need is there. They're still calling us. We can't just close up shop," Husney said.

In fact, they're accepting volunteer applications for 2020, while they wait for the state to validate them.

CBS2 wanted to ask Hatzoloh why not have a women's unit that can respond to emergencies and shouldn't women have a right to serve in that capacity, but did not get a response.

The state will probably not consider the license until next year.

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