Skip to comments.Lost in American West? You may be billed for rescue
Posted on 04/04/2006 9:13:58 PM PDT by bd476
Last October, avid mountaineer Tim Dopp and his teenage son set out for what they expected would be a day's climb of the highest peak in central Idaho's rugged Sawtooth Range.
It was the beginning of a two-day ordeal in which the Boise man and his son would be stranded on a narrow ledge near the summit of the 10,751-foot (3,277-meter) peak wondering if they would survive sub-freezing temperatures.
Summoned by a call from Dopp on his cell phone, five government agencies, 60 people and a high-altitude helicopter ended up being needed to lift the Dopps to safety.
While Dopp expected to be haunted by his errors in judgment that imperiled his son's life, he was taken by surprise last month when Custer County Sheriff Tim Eikens, the official overseeing the operation, sent him a bill for nearly $15,000.
"We need to step back as a state and maybe as a nation and consider how to finance these sorts of rescues," he said. "If we begin to bill the individual, it may become too costly and too worrisome for people to go anywhere but their own backyards."
He is consulting with agencies involved in his rescue as he considers whether to pay the bill.
Search and rescue experts say billing victims for the bulk of the tab for a rescue mission - staffed mostly by unpaid volunteers - is still rare in the American West where extremes in weather, terrain and forms of recreation make it inevitable that some will end up in dire straits.
The move by the Custer County sheriff has reignited the debate in the American West over who should pay to rescue the growing number of people who engage in high-risk activities. The issue is also under examination in other countries where adventure seekers have ended up in distress.
RULE BREAKERS MUST PAY
Just a handful of U.S. states have charge-for-rescue laws but most, including Idaho and California, target people who intentionally break rules, such as entering areas closed to the public.
Search and rescue organizations frown on making victims foot the bill, arguing fear of high costs will delay calls for help, exposing victims and rescuers to even greater risks.
But even as Western states spend millions marketing themselves as premier recreation destinations, cash-strapped local governments in vast but under-populated regions say they cannot keep pace with the rising number of recreation-related rescues.
Idaho's Custer County is a case in point. The Connecticut-sized county of 5,000 residents includes the state's highest peak and encompasses or abuts at least 10 mountain ranges, making it a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts.
"We're highly sought after for recreation but that also means we bear the brunt of rescues," said Sheriff Eikens.
With a modest annual search and rescue budget of about $5,000, Eikens is tiring of rescuing people who do not take necessary precautions. Last year, he oversaw the recovery of a snowboarder whose camera-equipped helmet allowed him to film his own death.
States that track such data, including Colorado and Oregon, say hikers are actually more likely to need rescue help than climbers. Mountaineers say many in the public do not appreciate such statistics and continue to see climbers as reckless daredevils.
"We believe most rescue activity is a public safety function," said Lloyd Athearn, deputy director of the American Alpine Club. "If I get into a car wreck and the police come to the wreck, I don't get a bill from the police officer for his time. So why should I get a bill from a county sheriff if I need a rescue?"
The National Park Service has periodically examined whether it should charge for search and rescue operations but so far has vetoed those proposals.
A series of widely publicized, disastrous climbs at Mount McKinley in Denali National Park in Alaska did prompt the park system in 1995 to require climbers planning to scale that 20,000-foot (6,100-meter) peak or Denali's Mount Foraker to register in advance and pay a fee, now set at $200.
Search and rescue expert Daryl Miller, district ranger at Denali National Park, said attaching a price tag to rescues would send the wrong message. At the same time, Denali rangers emphasize that the safety of the park's rescue teams comes first, so they may skip an especially treacherous effort.
"Rescue here is not guaranteed," said Miller. "Our motto has been: your emergency may not be our emergency."
North face of Sawtooth from Indigo Lake.
The Williams Peak Yurt is located just to the right of the open glade at the bottom center of
the photograph, which is courtesy of Kirk Anderson.
Do they bring them back if they can't pay?
Think of it as a "tax on stupid".
"While Dopp expected to be haunted by his errors in judgment that imperiled his son's life, he was taken by surprise last month when Custer County Sheriff Tim Eikens, the official overseeing the operation, sent him a bill for nearly $15,000."
A fifteen thousand dollar rescue you and your son's life bill is inexpensive.
They could have charged Mr. Dopp more in the event that Mr. Dopp didn't learn
- about the danger in being stranded on a mountaintop ridge at subfreezing temperatures, or
- not to endanger his life or the life of his teen-aged son, or
- that hiking in the wilderness up a 10,000 foot mountain is not for amateurs.
Gee wanting to people to pay for expensive rescues. That's so TERRIBLE!/sarcasm
Someone please tell me why taxpayers should foot the bill when folks decide to go out and risk their lives and need rescuing?
Massive rescue efforts cost real money. Maybe there should be insurance available for those who like to participate in these high-risk activities that pays for the cost of rescue...
Pay it and be grateful that you and your son are alive. The," Rescuers" actually risk their own lives when saving people like you. Pay the $15,000. And donate another $5,000 to the fine people who do this type of work.
It takes training and strength building and even then the best mountain climbers can get into trouble. The volunteers who go on search and rescue missions are among the best. They are not reimbursed for their training and they don't get paid for putting their lives on the line in a rescue.
That's an accurate label.
It's OK if some people die. People die everyday. It's part of life
Lol! It is surprising that Mr. Dopp is complaining. He is lucky that he and his son made it off the mountain alive.
Any time I went out - usually as a pair or in a group, we were always set for self-rescue/recovery. You could die waiting for help in some parts of the country - not a lick at anyone, just thinly spread resources.
'course nowadays I RV, love the heater and hot water showers.
I used to have this obsession with going to Everest base camp. I tried to imagine what it'd be like to freeze to death. Didn't like it :D
After all, most hypochondriacs' hospital bills are probably paid by insurance.
The Swiss have a good system for skiers. Buy the available insurance (for the day, or whatever), or pay for the ride.
Mountain climbing intrigues me. If I ever got into trouble, I don't think I'd be complaining about the rescue bill. I'd be happy to be alive! LOL Not too many mountains here to learn on though.
TheBattman wrote: "Someone please tell me why taxpayers should foot the bill when folks decide to go out and risk their lives and need rescuing?"
TheBattman wrote: "...Massive rescue efforts cost real money. Maybe there should be insurance available for those who like to participate in these high-risk activities that pays for the cost of rescue..."
High risk insurance is a great idea.
I was injured recently hiking in some foothills and CRAWLED back to my car (which fortunately wasn't too far away)because I couldn't afford the rescue-ambulance-helicopter which I feared would be dispatched. When other hikers passed me I sat down and pretended to be enjoying the view.
I pay for a fire dept., et. al., and they rescue drunk drivers and other idiots on the road, and they never charge them a penny.
But the drunks are never expectd to share the burden; just hikers, I guess.
There exists no free market in the ER - "No, doc, that x-ray is too expensive, I will run to wall mart and get one."
"No, your high-altitude helicopter at $1M is too expensive, I will walk. [granted, he only got billed $15k, which is cheap]"
But the article also says 60 people were involved in the rescue.
So, sooner or later, someone will get a bill for MILLIONS.
Is this just?
I don't know.
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