Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Search and Rescue Costs

Should climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts have to pay for rescue...?

Many non-climbers feel that climbing related rescues should be paid for by those that are rescued. However, many of these same individuals do not feel that hiking related, hunting related, or boating related rescues should be paid for by the individuals that are rescued. Of course, every year there are a lot more yachters and wayward Boy Scouts that are rescued than climbers.

Mountain rescue in the United States is generally managed by the Sheriff's department or the Park Service, depending on the location. The actual rescue though is usually done by mountain rescue volunteers or the military.

Las Vegas Metro Police Department Search and Rescue Practice in Red Rock Canyon
Photo from LVMPD S&R Website

Some cities maintain full-time Search and Rescue police officers. Places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles County send out their Search and Rescue officers nearly every day to deal with everything from boaters to ATV riders to people who took a wrong turn during a flood. Climbers make up a very small percentage of their rescue costs... But tax dollars certainly do support these operations.

Mountain rescue volunteers work for the satisfaction of providing assistance to those in need. They do not cost the government or the tax payers anything. The military operations that are used in rescues often employ individuals who are rescue specialists and would be training to do rescues anyway. As a result, the funds that go into these rescues are not as exhorbinant as many people might believe.

A new law in New Hampshire forces those who are rescued to pay for their rescues. WMUR Channel 9 New Hampshire reports:

A New Hampshire law aims to make people think twice before heading into the woods unprepared or under the influence.

The state Department of Fish and Game currently fines lost hikers who recklessly venture into the woods to pay for the cost of the rescue, but now the department will have the power to revoke the driver's licenses of those who don't pay. Hikers can also lose licenses with the state Health and Human Services Department, and hunting and fishing licenses.

The law also gives the state more power over who they decide to fine. Previously, the state had to prove someone acted recklessly before charging a hiker for repayment for a rescue. This meant the state had to show the hiker or hikers were aware going into the woods posed a substantial risk but they did it anyway. Now the state only has to prove the person was negligent.

While many rescues are of those who were negligent, there are a lot of rescues that take place where an individual made an honest mistake. The downside to laws such as this is that mountain activities have the look and feel of danger, even when they aren't terribly dangerous. Other wilderness users -- whether they do something that is negligent or not -- may not look like they are putting themselves in peril. The result is that climbers will likely bear the brunt of such laws.

Two Climbers Practice Rescue Techniques in a Single Pitch Instructor Course
Photo by Jason Martin

Indeed, who will decide if a given action is negligent or not? An experienced climber might try a hard route in a light-and-fast manner. Somewhere high on the route a hold breaks and he shatters his ankle. Were this brought to court after a rescue, that climber...even though he did everything right...might be charged for negligence. Why? It's a hard route and he didn't have a lot of equipment.

If a climber that is carrying seventy pounds of food and fuel up a glaciated peak decides to glissade with his crampons on and breaks an ankle, he might be seen as playing it safe and the idea of negligence might never come up. This is despite the fact that he was using an innapropriate technique at an innappropriate time.

Rescues take place in the mountains every day and climbers make up a very small percentage of those that are rescued. This issue always comes to a head when something bad happens to a climber, but it never comes up when something bad happens to another wilderness user. We are unfairly targetted by those that have little knowledge of what happens in the wilderness.

Creating laws that require negligent people to pay for rescues is a step in the wrong direction. It is far too difficult for the courts to delve into the idea of what is negligent in this field and what is not. Our main concern is that any type of climbing activity -- regardless of the experience level and training of the participant -- may be seen as negligent.

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

HMPaul said...

I can speak for the search and rescue community, and do so at the local, state and national level. We agree. We have been dealing with this issue since the 1980s. Here are positions of the SAR community, and other information:
http://www.mra.org/about-mra/mra-faq-s/49-what-is-mra-s-position-on-charging-for-search-and-rescue
http://www.coloradosarboard.org/csrb-documents/Refusing%20SAR%20Help.pdf
http://www.coloradosarboard.org/csrb-documents/NASAR-Position_Statement.pdfhttp://www.coloradosarboard.org/ChargingForSAR.shtml