MANATEE -- It has nothing to do with politics.
That’s the first thing Rocky Parker, a fire lieutenant paramedic at the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department, said when asked about his involvement with the Emergency Volunteers Project.
“The Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP) is a non-political, non-affiliated organization dedicated to deploying groups of ‘first responders’ to Israel during times of crisis and national emergency to work with Israel’s emergency services in providing essential, life-saving services to Israel’s citizens,” begins the EVP mission statement found at www.evp.org.il.
Parker sees his volunteering as at an act of professional solidarity.
“I’m not Jewish,” he said. “Just a fireman helping other firefighters.”
Parker, who lives with his wife, Jeaneen, and their two teenage children in East Manatee, has been stationed at Longboat Key for 12 years but has spent nearly three decades in the fire service dating back to his days in Indianapolis. The fit 45-year-old also owns Ameriops Business Brokers in Bradenton.
Paul Dezzi, fire chief of the Longboat Key Fire Rescue department, supports Parker’s decision to join EVP and feels it will “only enhance him” because there not many fires on Longboat Key.
“He’s an excellent paramedic, firefighter and officer,” Dezzi said. “There’s a wealth of knowledge he brings to his crew and he’s always willing to step up whenever needed.”
Parker stumbled across the EVP site a couple years ago while looking for fire training videos. He then contacted the organization and paid his way to New York City where he was trained by Israel firefighters in Israeli fire tactics and procedures.
“It was probably the most intense training I have ever done in my life,” he said. “Two people there are doing what 12 do in the states.”
EVP then recently flew Parker to Israel to spend a week and half training and working with Israeli firefighters in their stations to prepare for a national emergency.
He went with a group of Dallas firefighters. They trained on terrorism procedures and were given orientation with the bomb squad in Tel Aviv and the communications center. They also went on a security tour of the Golan Heights and the Lebanon border.
They worked between two firehouses: Ramat Gan in Tel Aviv and Petah Tikvah in the central district of Israel. The Americans ran fire calls, trained and lived in Israeli’s fire houses.
“The hospitality in Israel really struck me,” Parker said. “We were in secular society, with common, everyday folks and their hospitality was like I’ve never seen. I hate to say this, but people were treating us like rock stars.”
He added, “People were pulling out cameras. They thought it was amazing we were doing this. A lot of people go to see the sites in Israel, go for personal reasons, nobody goes for the people themselves. They thought that was amazing.”
Parker said he’s currently the only Florida firefighter member of EVP but there are more than 100 U.S. firefighters involved.
The organization wants more volunteers, including social workers, municipal utility workers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, and citizens to help with logistics and supply.
If Israel is attacked or, say, an earthquake hits, he’s on call.
“I’d have to get the time off approved,” Parker said. “But then I’d go. Everyone is involved in the military in Israel. They need us to man the fire stations.”
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Visit heraldbuzzworthy.blogspot.com.