No one should pay for search and rescue
Dear Editor:With our local election tempest coming to a close, our community will soon be refocusing on how best to allocate our shrinking governmental budgets to take care of the public needs. In these leaner times, we in the nationwide search-and-rescue community have been hearing calls from some folks that people in trouble should be charged for Search and Rescue. This is a phenomenally bad idea, and typically comes from people who are not rescuers. Nationally, all of the major Search and Rescue (SAR) organizations have joined to inform the public that SAR does not, and should not come with a bill. (National Association for Search and Rescue, Mountain Rescue Association, Colorado Search & Rescue Board, the International Association of Dive Rescue Specialists, the U.S. Coast Guard, National Park Service)Bottom line: Any delay in calling for SAR increases the risk to both the subject and the SAR team members. If someone hesitates to call for help because of a fear of billing, we inevitably face deteriorating weather, loss of light, patients whose condition has worsened, and/or subjects who are in poorer shape due to exposure. This adds up to more risk to everyone.Very few people get in trouble in the backcountry because they were using their best judgment and training. All of us make mistakes. It is not the role of SAR to penalize someone for getting in trouble. If someone ends up with ambulance/medical bills, or worse a personal tragedy why on earth do some folks want to pile on? Locally, we are fortunate to have a 50-member team of unpaid professional volunteers who train frequently for the privilege of being of service to those in need. No one is paid, and Mountain Rescue Aspen will never charge someone for SAR. Unlike every other first responder agency in the upper valley (police, fire, EMS), Mountain Rescue does NOT have a tax on the community. We obtain all of our funds for operations, training, equipment, etc., from private donations and public grants. We are grateful for decades of great community support. Still, most members come out of pocket for much of their personal rescue gear and training. (To learn more go to http://www.mountainrescueaspen.org).When responding to a SAR need, Mountain Rescue Aspen is performing its role at the request, and under the authority, of the Pitkin County Sheriffs Office. But neither the sheriff nor the county contributes to our budget. All we cost the taxpayers is an after-mission meal that the sheriff often buys us. This has got to be one of the best deals in public safety.So please help us get the word out: No one should be charged for SAR. We urge everyone to get educated on safe backcountry use, pay attention to weather and terrain conditions, and use your best judgment when youre out there.But dont hesitate to call for help. We will NOT bill you.Hugh Zukerpresident, Mountain Rescue Aspen
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