From Arlington, TX: Arlington Firefighter Returns from Nerve-Wracking Work in Israel

PANTEGO — When you fight fires for more than two decades, there’s a good chance you’ll have a couple of close calls.

Billy Hirth just had three or four in the course of one week.  The 52-year-old Arlington firefighter was helping Israeli firefighters respond to emergencies near the border with Gaza.

“There were just different things,” he said. “At one point, a radio goes off in Hebrew, everyone runs. I figure that was a good sign I should run […] a rocket hit about 600 feet from us.”

Hirth made the trip as part of a 13-man crew from the Emergency Volunteers Project. He said despite what some may think, his mission wasn’t about war or politics, but instead about trying to save lives.  “It’s not religious-based; it’s not political; it’s just firefighters doing what they do here,” Hirth said.

The Pantego resident who has worked with the Arlington Fire Department for nearly 20 years captured some of the adventure with photos and cell phone video.  At one point, he captured rockets being intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.  “That catches about 97 percent of stuff,” he said.  “It’s the other three percent you really think about.”

Although Hirth’s crew helped with more traditional duties — like responding to a car crash or medical emergency — Hirth said the basic approach to firefighting is different.  “A burning car just isn’t a burning car; you have to wait and see if a bomb is going to go off inside of it,” he said.

Right now, another crew from the Emergency volunteers Project is on standby.  Hirth said he was fortunate to get a flight out in time with the so many airlines canceling their service because of the danger.  He goes back to work — in Arlington — on Thursday.