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December 18, 2006

Should Taxpayers Foot The Bill For Rescues ?

by Doug Mataconis

Much of the news over the weekend focused on the search for three missing climbers lost on Oregon’s Mt. Hood. In watching the coverage last night, a question came to my mind — why should the government (read: taxpayers) foot the bill to rescue people who knowingly put themselves in dangerous situations ?

Consider, for a second, the scope of the rescue operation:

Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane from Nevada were to continue searching around the clock in 12-hour shifts, Sgt. Sean Collinson of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said. The C-130 has infrared imaging equipment that can sense body heat.

Additionally, the Oregon National Guard is heavily involved in the rescue attempts.

Don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of these men getting rescued and it was sad to learn last night that at least one of them had died. Hopefully, the remaining two will be found safe.

Nor am I saying that rescue attempts in situations like this, by both government and volunteer organizations, should not be made. Of course they should, the fact that we do them is an indication of just how precious one human life is to each of us.

The question is this; Should taxpayers foot the bill when someone who engages in dangerous, some might say reckless, behavior, gets injured or trapped ? Why shouldn’t the people rescued be made to bear at least some of the financial responsibility for rescuing them from the consequences of their own choices ?

I haven’t entirely made up my mind on this issue, but my instincts tell me that if you engage in risky behavior, then you bear some responsibility when the rest of us come to save you.


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12 Comments

  1. I believe these climbers had rescue insurance, which should (in theory) pay for at least part of the search & rescue effort.

    Comment by pdx — December 18, 2006 @ 9:19 am
  2. I haven’t seen any news reports one way or the other about them having insurance. If that’s the case, then perhaps pay isn’t an issue here (although I’d be interested to know how much such a policy will actually pay —- the cost of using a C-130 is not negligible I would imagine).

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — December 18, 2006 @ 9:25 am
  3. It’s almost the reciprocal of disaster spending: If one meteorite smashes through my window then it’s my problem, but if 10,000 meteorites smash through 10,000 windows then it becomes, somehow, a taxpayer problem.

    That simply cannot be right.

    Comment by KipEsquire — December 18, 2006 @ 9:48 am
  4. I’m all for submitting a bill to the rescued. They may not like taking out a second mortgage to pay for a couple of black hawks for the weekend, but it’s certainly better than dying.

    Still, difficult issues are raised on either side of the argument.

    If the hikers in this case, their family and friends (whomever called in the rescue party) were made to pay the bill, would their ability to pay effect the quality of service? Would knowing you’d have to pay large amounts of money discourage or delay you from calling for help? Would this apply to a state of national emergency? Lots of people died from stupidity in hurricane Katrina, while others died form a genuine lack of ability to get out of the effected area. In many cases it would be hard to assess who is liable for putting themselves in jeopardy, and who fell victim to circumstance.

    My fear is this: When the expense lies with the taxpayer, it can easily lead to legislation and restrictions on what we may or may not do, to avoid or reduce the cost of rescue missions. The day I need a hiking license and insurance to visit some of our nations more remote and beautiful areas… That’s the day I’ll pick up arms and fight back. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own safety. When others lend a hand in maintaining the safety of their community, it’s a great thing, but not something that should be relied upon.

    In the specific case of hikers, a handheld GPS and personal radio have become standard equipment. It makes sense to have even in non-emergency situations and would have cost a lot less than search planes and choppers. If people were aware of their own financial liability for these rescues, they might take greater precautionary measures to prevent these situations. Others may not. But at least in those cases, we won’t feel guilty about billing them.

    Comment by Vlatro — December 18, 2006 @ 11:11 am
  5. In a lot of areas, you ARE required to pay a certain fee if you call a search and rescue team. Granted, it’s generally more geared towards lower intensity rescue situations that only require one or two ground teams, not two Black Hawks and a C-130, but the precedent is there.

    As someone who spends some time in the backcountry, I’d have no problem with paying some of the fees associated with rescuing me. Generally speaking, if you need to be rescued, you screwed up in some regard. Bad luck really isn’t an excuse, excepting of course injuries/illness and the like.

    Comment by mike — December 18, 2006 @ 11:54 am
  6. I hate to say this but it seems these climbers have been given more attention than a family on a wrong road. When you take large risks you should be prepared for the consequences. It seems crazy to me that anyone would attempt a climb of Mt. Hood at this time of year. How much insurance would they have carried and how much money will all the agencies involved in this rescue attempt get paid back?? Wait till spring for any more attempts!! No need to lose more lives or expensive equipment.

    Comment by Doris Vician, Albuquerque, NM — December 18, 2006 @ 3:19 pm
  7. Why do so many people have a problem with taxpayers helping to pay for a rescue operation when they are all for helping people in 3rd world countries? Yes, these climbers did knowingly put themselves in danger but the American goverment spends billions of dollers to help people all over the world. Why can’t we use some of that money to help 3 men get off a mountain that they were stranded on? What has become of this country of ours that we cannot help our own? Our we so messed up in our priorities that we cannot help our fellow Americans before we help people in other countries that are ungrateful for that help and turn on us? This is not right. Also, the families did state that they would pay back what they can but think about it; if those were your family members, your brothers, sons, uncles wouldn’t you want everything possible thing done to help them no matter the cost? I know that I  would. These men deserve to be rescued and even though it doesn’t look good for these last two men I hope and pray that they will be found alive. Or even though no one wants to think about it, at least their bodies so that the family members can have a little bit of closure and be able to say “Good-bye” to their family members.

    Comment by Robin — December 18, 2006 @ 6:12 pm
  8. No one’s saying the men shouldn’t be rescued. But like I said before, it’s rare that “bad luck” is the only reason for this situation. Those men made, somewhere along the line, a few poor decisions (or more).

    Comment by mike — December 18, 2006 @ 11:27 pm
  9. The taxpayer pays billions for Blackhawks and C-130′s, billions more for “practice exercises” and it’s an issue that it’s being put to practical humanitarian use? The Hood River Crag Rats and Portland Mountain Rescue are paying their own expenses [no taxpayer assistance] and have no complaints about going out to help an ‘Ohana. Does someone want to complain about their involvement in the effort to find the missing?

    Comment by Bill — December 19, 2006 @ 2:12 am
  10. Generally, you just file most of it, especially flight time, as training expenses. They generally fly for “no reason” to keep current, and special purposes such as rescue or firefighting end up using those funds and generating the hours. That’s for the military, anyway.

    When you figure up that two days of flight time was going to be spent anyway, that the Sheriff has a job anyway, and there are a bunch of volunteers searching and cooking chow for rescuers, I don’t think the cost if as high as one would surmise.

    Comment by Jmarsh — December 19, 2006 @ 3:49 am
  11. It’s good to see that this issue is being discussed. I am not a climber but suspect that climbing Mt Hood in the winter is in itself pretty dumb. The question is why should I a taxpayer pay for someone else’s entertainment or desire for thrills? For example, I just saw a TV show re an emergency room in Las Vegas where most of the patients were motorcyclists, most of whom wore no helmet. Several had been through multiple accidents and still cycled. One of the patients ended up a quadraplegic. Why on earth should I pay for their medical care or if incapacitated, their long term care? I guess simple humanity requires that we take care of and pay for the stupid thrills of others. Same issue comes up with smoking and people who are chronic alchoholics or grossly overweight. They can do what they want but shouldn’t they pay higher medical premiums? If they’re covered by group heath insurance, their premiums or share of premiums is the same as someone who quit smoking, keeps his or her weight down and drinks in moderation.

    Comment by Nancy — December 19, 2006 @ 8:24 am
  12. Stupid. If you crave expensive thrills then you must pay for the mistakes or accidents. Nancy Grace, (or whatever her name is) and these other news channels spent days on end covering this one incident of carelessness asking dumb questions over and over again of the climbers relatives and experts to the point of rediculous overkill.  Make their relatives pay for the rescue efforts, no matter how long it takes   and stop anyone from climbing anything during dangerous conditions.  (or any conditions for that matter)

    Comment by Jim Blobner — December 19, 2006 @ 10:32 am

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