Syria's “White Helmets”: Volunteers who Provide First Aid to the Wounded

Dr. Taher Wazzaz, Manager of the Civil Defense Team in Idlib

The Syrian Civil Defense is a group of Syrian volunteers, also named as “the White Helmets”, who provide an ambulance service. Dr. Taher Wazzaz, the medical coordinator of the Civil Defense teams in Idlib area, explains how they provide first aid to the wounded. MSF organized a training on triage of the wounded for the volunteers working in Idlib area.

“The war has been going on for four years and the situation is going to get worse. I am a dentist. I had a dental clinic before the war. I began working for Civil Defense on June 22, 2013. All the others are volunteer nurses or nurse's aides. There are a total of 80. Our work involves picking up the wounded. They are primarily civilians. When there is an attack, people call us for help. When we already know what’s going on, we go to the location ourselves. We have cars and we find and pick up the wounded. We often have to search for them in the ruins.

For example, the market in Saraquib was hit by artillery fire several days ago. It was horrible. There were more than 13 dead and many wounded. Our teams went there to provide first aid, dress wounds, and transfer patients to field hospitals or to Turkey. Ten people were seriously wounded. When they reached the hospital, they all required amputations.

We distribute our telephone number and people call the nurses. If the nurses hear that there has been an attack, they go there immediately. They have ambulances—that is, cars with the Civil Defense logo to protect them from being shot at. But that’s not very effective protection. And we don’t have enough ambulances or medical kits.  

We have 20 medical posts. Two people work at each one. They only dress wounds and provide first aid. They treat around 200 wounded people every month.

MSF trained our staff. The training modules cover dressings and triage for the wounded, identifying the severity of the wounds, and determining which patients to treat first. MSF also vaccinated our teams against hepatitis C and gave them first aid kits.”