Just after 9 p.m. on a recent Monday, a man climbed the White Mosque in the Israeli city of Ramla and threatened to commit suicide by jumping off. People on the street called the police as they witnessed him throwing his clothing off the side of the building. Police arrived quickly and called for emergency medical services to assist.
United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Avraham Arnon, who lives in Ramla and teaches martial arts at the local community center, was just waking up when he received the alert. “I didn’t even have time to throw a shirt on; I grabbed my motorcycle jacket and rushed out to respond,” Arnon recounts.
He arrived at the scene less than three minutes later and saw the man begin hurling stones and pipes from the roof at the gathered police below. “I moved my ambucycle to a safe distance and then asked the gathered officers what the situation was,” he says.
The police told Arnon the man was requesting to speak to someone who was a former border police officer, and they were calling one from the force to come to the scene. Arnon told the officers he was a former border police officer, and they told him the name of the person on the roof so Arnon could begin talking to him. Arnon recognized the man’s name—he’d been a student in Arnon’s martial arts program many years before.
“I began to speak to the man and build up a rapport,” Arnon recalls. “We spoke about being in the border police unit and about a shared love for martial arts. I asked him if I could come up to join him on the roof, and he agreed.
“Just then the police negotiators from the Yamam (a special police unit) arrived. We attempted to get to the top of the tower by using the ladder of a fire truck, but it didn’t reach. We climbed the stairs, but they were blocked by bars. I asked him if we could bring a firefighter up the stairs to cut the bars, and he agreed. He also asked for cigarettes and some water.
“Once the bars were cut, I brought him the water. He asked for the cigarettes, and I told him I didn’t have any because I had rushed over right from bed. He told me to call my wife and tell her I was OK, and I did. Then I told him I could get him cigarettes when we climbed down from the tower of the mosque.”
After continuing to build up a rapport with the man, Arnon and the police negotiator managed to talk him off the ledge and get him down to ground level.
“I’ve been a volunteer EMT for more than two years, and this is the first time I have ever been in this type of situation,” Arnon adds. “I am thankful I was able to reach a rapport with the man and everything ended positively. It was a very stressful situation.”
Raphael Poch is the international media spokesperson for United Hatzalah, Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization.