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Rescues

Postby Dow Williams » Fri Jul 13, 2012 6:00 pm

Rescues should be a liability of the individual(s) needing rescue, managed no different than how a particular jurisdiction collects on a speeding ticket, through the courts via a fine. Anyone who could get lost on a particular route should not be climbing it to begin with in my opinion, but that's impossible to police nor do I believe government has the competence to do so. Darwin's Law is the best selection management tool for such activities. If someone gets hurt by accident on a route and needs rescue, then the cost of rescue is simply the risk they take to enjoy that sport or activity. That cost should not be passed on to those who do not want to take similar risks.

This stance is about less government intervention in your lives. More of a libertarian twist. Live and let live until you affect me or in this case the community in which you live or visit in terms of their tax dollars. Dialing 911 should have consequences, it should be the last resort....or, you can dial 911 if somebody did not make your sandwiches the way you liked them...true story about a month ago. Zero consequences.

In Canada National parks, they charge you extra fees on your park pass to cover their annual budgeted expense of rescues, partially why their national park pass is almost twice what a US National Park pass is. I am cool with that if that is how big brother wants to do it. Currently, many if not most SAR rescues are not paid for by user fees or collected as fines, but rather passed on to the tax payer at large, i.e. Clark County for Red Rock, NCA.

Some offer weird responses to such debates, i.e. how great a particular SAR team might or might not be. That has nothing to do with it. Same weird responses some Americans exhibit about war debates..."but the troops are such great folks risking it all!"...might be true, but that point has nothing to do with the validity of the war they might be risking it all for.
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Re: Rescues

Postby Kahuna » Fri Jul 13, 2012 6:47 pm

As a former SAR Operator, I know how it feels to put my ass on the line as well as those of my SAR Team Mbrs. Only to find out that the individual/s initial report was no where as dire as originally transmitted.

In all of those cases, going after them for negligent 911 requests is impossible.

Thanks DOW for well needed this post.
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Re: Rescues

Postby SeanReedy » Fri Jul 13, 2012 8:48 pm

A person makes choices or somehow ends up in situations that end up using community resources, costing money to others, impacting other people, or impacting the environment. Should the person be entirely responsible for covering the cost? Is a system like that something that could realistically be put in place and function under governments like what Canada and the U.S. have today? Would such a system drastically reduce frivolous 911 calls? Would such a system reduce appropriate 911 calls?

Maybe an insurance mandate is in order.
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Re: Rescues

Postby SeanReedy » Fri Jul 13, 2012 9:38 pm

I was talking with a former SAR guy in Bishop last month. He told me several stories, two being of the frivolous call nature.

The first was about a woman with a broken arm and doctor husband for a hiking partner. They repeatedly demanded a chopper ride when SAR showed up with horses to carry them out on. No gratitude was expressed for showing up and helping. The SAR team kept refusing to call for a chopper. She refused to get on a horse until the SAR team finally started to leave.

The second was about a husband whose wife had reported him missing/two days late getting home. SAR found his tent and heard lots of female giggling coming from inside. They interrupted. A man emerged and after verifying he was the missing individual, SAR suggested he get to a phone and call his wife.

The same morning I heard these stories, I had happened to give a a PCT group a ride from South Lake to Bishop. I had seen a chopper carry out their companion the day before while I was hiking beyond Bishop Pass. It turns out a ranger (probably at LeConte), had called for the chopper due to the possibility of AMS/pulmonary problems. I don't know if the young woman had insurance or a job. After time at the hospital in Bishop, she was invited to spend the night at a nurses house and was being monitored when her friends gave her a call that morning.
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Re: Rescues

Postby Dow Williams » Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:01 pm

Sean, you don't need insurance mandates. If you get a speeding ticket or excessive parking tickets, Clark County, for example, collects very effectively. They can lien your assets (auto titles and property titles). They can basically lien your privilege to drive (drivers licence). They can obtain wage garnishments. The most effective collection agencies in the world are tax agencies from the IRS on down to your County and local governments, who in many cases are responsible for your rescue within their boundaries. There is no need for an insurance mandate. Insurance, to hold or not hold, should always be a matter of choice. Obama's failure is that he could not get rid of the middle guy (true universal healthcare). Mandating you do business with the middle guy is a poor political choice in my opinion and one that has haunted his Presidency.

Just add personal responsibility back into the equation where it has currently gone missing.
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Re: Rescues

Postby Kahuna » Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:07 pm

Dow Williams wrote:Just add personal responsibility back into the equation where it has currently gone missing.


Imagine that. People need to be responsible.... nah!
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Re: Rescues

Postby mattyj » Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:14 pm

If that's the model society wants to move to for government services I could be talked into it, but I don't see the point in carving out SAR as a special case. Especially since SAR is typically (NPS excepted) performed by unpaid individuals and the actual billable costs are small.

There are lots of things in this world that fit the 80/20 or 90/10 rule - 20% of a population takes 80% of the work. Police getting called out when the same couple fights every other weekend, EMS scraping the same homeless addicts off the sidewalk and shuttling them to the ER once a month, etc. Generally, society doesn't bill this small minority for the massive government services they use. Medical transport/treatment is a little different but you can bet the homeless guy isn't forking over for his ambulance ride.

A Coast Guard helo or cutter burns more fuel in a day than a rural SAR team may have for its entire yearly budget, yet the USCG does not charge for rescue. Plenty of stupid out there in the recreational boating community; why not start there?

Counties with urban areas see lots of non-wilderness SAR callouts. Should we bill the alzheimer's patient who wanders off? The family of a small child who goes missing at a local park? The estate of a suicidal individual who heads into the wild to end their life? When a late hiker does not need/request rescue but a friend calls 911 because they're delayed, do we send them a bill anyway? All calls I've been on, and I don't know where to draw the line - especially the last one, is it really fair to send you a bill because someone you know called for help?

And what does the itemized bill look like? The National Guard does not bill local counties for helo time. I may be wrong but in California I don't think the CHP does either. SAR volunteers are unpaid, and don't even get reimbursed for mileage. Equipment does wear out, but it's essentially a fixed cost. If there's 10 volunteers and 1 deputy, do we bill them 8 hours of the deputy's pay because he was sitting around eating donuts in the command post rather than working patrol?

Sometimes a missing child search will be dual-tracked as it's unclear whether the kid ran away or was abducted. You'll have some SAR volunteers looking for a scared, hiding kid while others look for a body dumped on the side of the road. Assume the kid is found safe; do we bill the parents for police time and SAR resources spent investigating the abduction angle?

Another argument against charging people is that it will often cause them to delay calling for help well beyond when they should, which makes the situation worse and potentially places other hikers/climbers or responders in greater danger. If a hiker is overdue, it's better for the SAR team to get out early, set up containment and keep the search area small than wait until the search area is 100 square miles. If someone's injured, it's easier to fetch them during daylight than at 2AM when they give up on trying to crawl out under their own power.

Some agencies - and I believe this includes the NPS - approach the problem by only billing when the feel the individual has been negligent. The bar for this is pretty high - things like packing inadequate storm gear on a big wall, getting lost multiple times inside the same park, ignoring directions from 911/SAR after you've requested rescue, etc. The line is a little fuzzy but I think it's better than a blanket charge-for-rescue approach.
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Re: Rescues

Postby SeanReedy » Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:19 pm

Garnishments crossed my mind. As for the mandate reference, I couldn't resist the timing.

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Re: Rescues

Postby mattyj » Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:29 pm

SeanReedy wrote:It turns out a ranger (probably at LeConte), had called for the chopper due to the possibility of AMS/pulmonary problems. I don't know if the young woman had insurance or a job. After time at the hospital in Bishop, she was invited to spend the night at a nurses house and was being monitored when her friends gave her a call that morning.


It's worth noting that incidents like this will generally get you a bill. If you have a medical condition, are in a known location (even in the backcountry) and do not require any sort of technical extraction (e.g. at the bottom of a steep gully), a private air ambulance such as CALSTAR/Careflight/Lifeflight will generally get dispatched and they will send you a bill. Typically your medical insurance will only cover the flight if it was medically necessary - i.e. if you have a heart attack they'll pay for it, but if you had a broken leg they won't, regardless of how hard it might have been to hike out on one leg.

In Yosemite, sometimes the NPS will use its own helicopter to short-haul an injured climber to the valley floor and then transfer them to an air ambulance. The climber won't get a bill from the NPS, but they will get one for the air ambulance ride - similar to how the fire department won't bill you for cutting your car apart, but the ambulance you ride to the hospital in will.
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Re: Rescues

Postby Kahuna » Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:46 pm

Just to clarify,

Most all "Volunteer SAR" Units in the state of CA fall under the the auspices of the local County Sheriff. In most if not all cases, the IC and Senior Operator will be a paid Deputy Sheriff that is assigned to the SAR Unit on a paid basis.

CHP does not charge for their air support. Neither do any of the Military entities when called to support the SAR OP.
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Re: Rescues

Postby Dow Williams » Fri Jul 13, 2012 11:15 pm

mattyj wrote:If that's the model society wants to move to for government services I could be talked into it, but I don't see the point in carving out SAR as a special case. Especially since SAR is typically (NPS excepted) performed by unpaid individuals and the actual billable costs are small.


I am afraid Matt, your point perhaps is the biggest obstacle we face as a nation (the US) towards solving some of our major current financial/social problems. Every one seems to have the attitude..."well why do we have to start with the man in the mirror". I am a full time climber. My chances of needing rescue in the wilderness via rock fall, avalanches, whatever the reason, are a bit higher than someone who plays and works in the city. I am stepping forward and saying if I have not already paid for it, i.e. via a national park pass in Canada, then I should be responsible for the cost of any such rescue, not society at large.

Summitpost is an outdoor activity website. It takes folks within each segment of society offering "fair" solutions for their fellow citizens to make compromising a vogue thing to do. Otherwise, we just keep digging a deeper trench. As long as we can print money at will to buy other countries natural resources (oil, food, timber and the like), no worries. If the rest of the world ever calls us on it...we are going to have to start taking personal responsibility and not worry about if the kid next door has or has not eaten his peas. We discuss the cost of SARS and who should be responsible for it because this is the appropriate site to discuss this particular luxury. Not every country has SARS to the extent the US does.
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Re: Rescues

Postby Kahuna » Sat Jul 14, 2012 4:41 am

And Mattyj:

I do not take to kindly to the "eating donuts at the command post" comment. Each and every Sheriff Dep on both Inyo County and Mono County SAR are highly trained SAR Professionals. In most SAR OPS, the Lead Dep on the Team actually on the OP, is busting his ass. In many cases, from start to finish. Then, he has to immediately return to his substation and spend no less than 2 hours filling out all the required paperwork.

Now, if your county SAR operates in this fashion, please use this ref for them and not all SAR entities out there.

L A, RIVERSIDE and SAN BERDO COUNTY SAR are mainly operated by full time highly dedicated professional Sheriff's Deps. I do not think that they would appreciate your comment either.
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Re: Rescues

Postby robk » Sat Jul 14, 2012 7:01 am

A5RP wrote:And Mattyj:

I do not take to kindly to the "eating donuts at the command post" comment. Each and every Sheriff Dep on both Inyo County and Mono County SAR are highly trained SAR Professionals. In most SAR OPS, the Lead Dep on the Team actually on the OP, is busting his ass. In many cases, from start to finish. Then, he has to immediately return to his substation and spend no less than 2 hours filling out all the required paperwork.

Now, if your county SAR operates in this fashion, please use this ref for them and not all SAR entities out there.

L A, RIVERSIDE and SAN BERDO COUNTY SAR are mainly operated by full time highly dedicated professional Sheriff's Deps. I do not think that they would appreciate your comment either.


In CA and a significant portion of the western US, the county sheriff has jurisdictional authority for wilderness SAR in their county (urban or USAR is usually a fire dept. accountability) and are often the primary SAR resource in USFS/BLM areas as well (NPS is a bit different since jurisdiction is exclusive). The SAR teams are almost entirely comprised of trained volunteers and, as noted usually have regular deputies assigned to the teams in addition to other duties. It is not unusual at all for the IC and many other sr. incident mgmt. positions to be filled by the volunteers from the rescue team. Many of these volunteers have 20, 30 or more years of experience that few deputies can match. The best team's volunteer and paid LEO personnel work seamlessly together.

Dow mentions personal responsibility. I'm all for that. But many of the acts you cite are tied to violations of the law (speeding, parking violations, etc.) As far as I know, most wilderness accidents are not the result of criminal acts. Courts may not be the best place to manage this type of behavior unless we want to outlaw stupidity. I would be more than happy to apply MY definition of what would qualify. I would also be happy to determine which lifestyle choices are not OK and should cost more money if they result in a 9-1-1 call. I'm not sure many people would be happy with my definitions. I sure don't want some bureaucrat defining it any more than they already do.

User fees - you noted Parks Canada and similar user fee based models. Those are probably a reasonable option since they can be collected from everyone through a single process. Failure to have the appropriate pass could certainly be a punishable offense and create a liability for any/all fees should an incident occur. I could also argue that I already pay a user fee via my taxes and should be entitled to access USFS or other public lands without an ADDITIONAL fee. In a more libertarian model I could easily argue that I shouldn't pay ANY taxes toward supporting a service I do not benefit from. Many people never visit their local NF and argue that they shouldn't be taxed for something they don't use wouldn't be unreasonable. After all, the NF isn't national defense....

Good discussion in any case. I'm not sure it is as simple as we'd like it to be.
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Re: Rescues

Postby mattyj » Sat Jul 14, 2012 7:04 am

Geez. Just because I don't Capitalize all of my Common Nouns to make them sound like Official Phrases doesn't mean I'm disrespecting anyone's professionalism. The deputies I've worked with typically have a good sense of humor with a strong self-deprecating streak - and I doubt they'd get so worked up over my comment, taken in context. Donuts are pretty common CP food - cop jokes aside, it's easy to acquire donuts and coffee in bulk at all hours of the day/night, and they're just what your body wants at 3AM.

All of which totally misses the point of that paragraph, which is that the paid staff on a search is often working their regular shift anyway and not pulling overtime. The county is down one deputy who could otherwise be working patrol, but the actual budget impact is somewhere between zero and small. Since the county doesn't get a bill for helicopter time, what costs are there to pass along to the missing/injured subject?

Every time a big climbing/mountaineering related SAR happens, the subject of charging for rescue bubbles up into the national conversation. The general impetus seems to be that climbing is inherently more dangerous than other activities, and that if people are going to voluntarily expose themselves to those risks, then they should bear the burden of those choices, not society. Fine - except that (1) I don't agree with the fundamental assertion of climbing placing an outsized burden on society and (2) it's a very fuzzy line between activities that would and would not warrant charging.

To really eliminate the social burden you can start talking about making the program pay for itself, amortizing the fixed costs out over the number of SARs a county has. Then you start running into the problem that ambulances and ERs have - you're obligated to treat everyone, but the people who need your services the most are also the least able to pay for them. Either you soak those who can afford it to cover those who can't, or the government pays for a lot of it anyway.

Dow, I agree that we will eventually have a day of reckoning, but I don't see a strong link between wilderness rescue costs and the federal deficit. As a "segment of society", the climbing community already goes to great lengths to clean up after itself, much more so than say the hunting or OHV communities. I consider participating in SAR - and there are a lot of climber volunteers, despite the stereotypes of climbers and LE not mixing well - a "fair compromise" to limit the impact on society at large, and a better one than charging for rescue.
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Re: Rescues

Postby robk » Sat Jul 14, 2012 7:16 am

mattyj wrote:
SeanReedy wrote:It turns out a ranger (probably at LeConte), had called for the chopper due to the possibility of AMS/pulmonary problems. I don't know if the young woman had insurance or a job. After time at the hospital in Bishop, she was invited to spend the night at a nurses house and was being monitored when her friends gave her a call that morning.


It's worth noting that incidents like this will generally get you a bill. If you have a medical condition, are in a known location (even in the backcountry) and do not require any sort of technical extraction (e.g. at the bottom of a steep gully), a private air ambulance such as CALSTAR/Careflight/Lifeflight will generally get dispatched and they will send you a bill. Typically your medical insurance will only cover the flight if it was medically necessary - i.e. if you have a heart attack they'll pay for it, but if you had a broken leg they won't, regardless of how hard it might have been to hike out on one leg.

In Yosemite, sometimes the NPS will use its own helicopter to short-haul an injured climber to the valley floor and then transfer them to an air ambulance. The climber won't get a bill from the NPS, but they will get one for the air ambulance ride - similar to how the fire department won't bill you for cutting your car apart, but the ambulance you ride to the hospital in will.


mattyj - Spot on re: private air (and ground) ambulances. Determination of medically necessary is likely going to be made by the medical personnel on scene. As a result, a helicopter evac might be used for a broken leg if there is a 4 mile/3 hour litter evacuation that otherwise would be required. Transport decisions are rarely going to be made by the patient. Are you aware of insurers denying coverage based on the call that on-scene medics or medical personnel made? Just curious.
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