Israel’s emergency rescue service was sued last week, six years after an operator accused a 21-year-old woman reporting a fire in her apartment of “playing games.”
Inbal Segev from Haifa, who made the call from a state-provided apartment while carrying out her national service, died in May 2008, after a 14-day stay at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, where she was treated for extensive burns and damaged lungs.
Her father, Moshe Segev, sued the Magen David Adom emergency service and the national service system last week at Haifa District Court.
The suit states the operator initially thought the call was a hoax and failed to provide appropriate and timely assistance.
“Despite Inbal’s great distress, the operator did not provide her with guidance on lifesaving measures she could have taken, delaying the dispatch of firefighters and treating a serious incident lightly and disdainfully,” the lawsuit states.
The mishandling of emergency calls, which a 2013 report found to be a systemic problem, came under the national spotlight this month, after police revealed it took them hours to report to the army that one of the kidnapped teenagers had called the police to report that they were being abducted.
In the Segev case, the operator took a long time obtaining personal details such as her mobile and landline phone numbers, while Segev’s time was running out. At the end of the conversation, the operator informed Segev she had dispatched a crew to the apartment.
Though the suit says the operator took too long to send firefighters to the scene, Magen David Adom says she did so “at the very beginning of the call and the collection of personal information.”
In a chilling recording of the call, Inbal Segev can be heard shouting that there was a fire in the apartment and that everything was exploding. The operator can be heard replying: “Listen, why are you playing games?”
Segev answers: “I’m not playing! I swear to you! There is black smoke everywhere, dear God!”
“It was very difficult for us to get hold of the recording, since the emergency services were reluctant to deliver them,” said Moshe Segev’s lawyer. “We concealed it from the father for a while, since it’s hard to listen to.”
Moshe Segev wanted to make the case public in part to show that the state is not taking full responsibility for citizens performing national service, his lawyer said.
“You expect them to be treated like soldiers, with authorities taking responsibility when housing them in a state-owned apartment,” the lawyer said. “However, they are not insured by the Defense Ministry.”
Magen David Adom expressed “deep regrets over Inbal’s death” and said it could not comment extensively on the incident because it is under judicial consideration.
The rescue service did say its call centers were staffed by “professional paramedics who undergo rigorous training and constant professional upgrading,” adding that they “start giving lifesaving medical guidelines over the phone, instructing callers on how to behave until our teams arrive.”
“Even in this case, which wasn’t strictly a medical emergency, the operator inquired whether the caller could flee the apartment,” Magen David Adom said. “Unfortunately, the fire reached the victim within seconds.”