Yarden Batz is a 20-year-old junior at the University of Tennessee who is busy working toward a degree in biochemistry on an academic scholarship. She is an Israeli, born in Jerusalem, but a graduate of Brentwood High School near Nashville. And about the last place you’d think you would find her these days is at the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department’s Station 5 in Sevier County. In fact, she lives there.
This young woman, all of 5 feet, 4 inches, is focused and knows what she’s doing and why. She loves being an emergency first responder.
After graduation from UT in May 2020, next up will be the UT Health Science Center in Memphis for medical school. Batz plans to join the U.S. Army while in school there and then serve as a U.S. Army trauma surgeon for four years. Then it’s back to Israel to be a trauma surgeon in the Israeli Army. That’s her plan.
In addition to pulling all-nighters studying at the UT undergraduate library, she’s answering calls, fighting fires, going into people’s homes to provide medical assistance, working wrecks and seeing things she’s never seen before. A car ended up in a deep ditch not long ago on Gov. John Sevier Highway and burst into flames. She was there when the tow truck pulled the car up to the side of the highway and the male driver had burned to death.
One call really got to her. An elderly man was in cardiac arrest at home when she and the team arrived. “We did everything we could to save him, everything, and he had a pulse when he went into the ambulance but not much of one. He didn’t make it. It was so sad to watch her see her life partner leave the house like that, and she never saw him alive again,” Batz says. “That was so hard. All I could do was hug her.”
Why is a pre-med student doing this work – and it’s all volunteer work? “It’s fun, very fun, and it’s work that someone has to do for our community, and I love it – helping people, making a difference. It’s engaging work, and what I do and learn here will help me in the future,” she explains.
She knew in the ninth grade that she wanted to be a doctor. As a sophomore, she founded the Medicine Club at Brentwood High. It had about 50 active members. Doctors visited the club at school. Club members took tours of hospitals and observed surgeries in operating rooms at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. They even watched robotic surgeries.
In high school, Batz also volunteered with the Nashville Fire Department. Once at UT, at age 18, she began volunteering with the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad in 2017 and that lasted a year. She became a vehicle rescue technician with added certification as a specialized rescue diver.
Then she joined the Seymour department, and Chief John Lisenbigler was a happy man.
“As her understanding of emergency services grew, she took it upon herself to become an EMT (emergency medical technician), and in 2018 she began training as a firefighter,” he says about her graduation from the Sevier County Fire Academy. “She is something else again.”
Her stepfather is Shlomo, a computer scientist who works for Asurion in Nashville. Mother Vered has a master’s degree in chemistry. They immigrated to the U.S. in 2011 for their careers. Batz also has a little brother, Etai, 11.
“I love working for this department,” Batz says. “It’s long hours I put in – going to classes five days a week, being here at night trying to study and taking calls and making runs. But the people I work with are wonderful, people like the chief, like Al Letich who works every Sunday at the station after driving a school bus all week and he’s 70 years old.”
She is currently carrying a 3.85 GPA at UT and plans to begin studying this summer for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).
After she completes her commitment to the U.S. Army, she plans to return to Israel as a trauma surgeon for the Israeli Army. “I love the people here, but I fit better being in Israel. I believe Israel needs people like me with experience, passion and a love of our country,” she says. “I want to treat and cure people who come out of battles, and unfortunately I don’t think the wars will ever end. I don’t want to spend time working on people with overdoses or injuries caused by alcohol. Working to help save soldiers is very worthwhile.”
As for serving in the U.S. Army after medical school, where would she like to be stationed? “Wherever they put me, I’ll help and be very happy,” Batz says. “I want to make a difference with my life.”
Capt. Will Steward worked with Batz at the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad. Of her he says: “She is a wonderful person with a heart that is bigger than she is.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.