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Search and Rescue Costs
updated: Oct 16, 2012, 1:58 PM
By Evan Skei
I just wanted to share a little insight with my fellow Edhatters. Every time I read an article on a
backcountry rescue, it is inevitably followed by a string of comments questioning the use of helicopters,
and the cost of the rescue to taxpayers. It would seem from these comments that the county's coffers
are being thoughtlessly bled dry every time 911 is called from up the trail. This is not the case. The
agencies that respond to calls for help in our mountains are professional and the tactics they employ are
based on protocol and well established standards.
First off, the use of air assets: Many people wonder why a helicopter is deployed when ground units
could perform the same service at lesser risk and cost. Simply, helicopters are the fastest way to get a
paramedic to a victim. Frequently, after the helicopter paramedic has had a chance to assess the victim,
he/she will determine that the injury is minor and can transfer care to inbound ground crews for
transport to the hospital. If there is any question as to the seriousness of the injury/ illness however,
the victim will be hoisted and flown to the hospital where they can promptly receive definitive care. With
the benefit of hindsight, it can seem like overkill, but the standard across all rescue agencies in the
nation is to treat for the worst case scenario. If it were your loved one who was ill or injured, you'd
expect the same.
Secondly: The cost. Your firefighters are on duty 24/7, 365 days a year. It costs taxpayers the same
amount to have them hike up a trail after an unlucky hiker as it does to have them train in the
classroom, polish their engines, put out a fire, or eat lunch. There is no charge for their response. They
don't question why they were called. The bell rings, and in less than 60 seconds, they're on their way.
The costs of fuel, equipment and training are projected and set in the fire department's operating
budget months in advance.
You may think the amount of resources committed to a trail incident is excessive, but dispatchers use
the same established protocols to send help for trail rescues as they do for heart attacks, car accidents,
brush fires and burglaries. We all benefit from having trained, professional responders at the ready. Rest
assured, when you or your family need 911, our dispatchers, deputies, officers, firefighters, paramedics
and search and rescue volunteers will respond promptly, professionally, and without judgement.
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