Why No Charge For Rescues?
This is a topic that heats up periodically. Although there is clearly a need for proper funding of volunteer search & rescue teams across the province, charging for rescues is not the way to accomplish this.
Our Official Position Is
We do not support charging for rescues primarily due to the risk of a lost or injured person or their family/friends delaying a call for help. Through over 60 years of Search and Rescue work in the central Okanagan, we have seen many calls where family have been under the impression that they would be charged, and delayed their calls for help. Another situation we have run into is a subject being under the impression they would be charged, and avoiding rescuers (trying to follow them out). There are significant risks and costs which can be associated with this.
- The subject may be put at greater risk (eg. the delay itself, prolonged exposure to the elements, less likely to be found, etc.)
- The rescuers may be put at greater risk (more exposure, more area to cover (time distance traveled considerations), air support may be unavailable due to delay, etc)
- A prolonged search increases costs to taxpayers and volunteers exponentially
We utilize helicopters a lot, and any delay that moves the search into the pre-dusk, dusk, night time realm increases the risk to the rescuers and reduces the chances of a successful rescue. Firstly, our SAR helicopters cannot fly at night; thus, no air support for our members in the event one of our own becomes injured. Second, the lack of light at the end of the day make helicopter rescues much more challenging, and as such, much more risky. What the pilot can’t see, or can’t see well, can be extremely dangerous to the aircrew. Finally, a delay of 30 minutes could mean the difference between a relatively straight forward “snatch and grab” via helicopter or a 12 hour stretcher evacuation with 30 members through extremely dangerous avalanche terrain.
Other concerns we have include family/friends launching self-rescue with untrained/inexperienced volunteers, creating a situation of confusion where we may end up searching for or rescuing more people. Plus there is the obvious risk of people trying to self-rescue when they become lost – becoming more lost, moving into more dangerous terrain, or moving further out of the search area – which can lead to their chances of survival significantly dropping off. Charging also work against our educational programs which encourage people to tell a friend, leave a trip plan, and set a return time (after which to call for SAR). The emphasis should be trying to reduce the costs of rescues through education, rather than reclaiming those costs through outdoor users; whether they are innocent or negligent in their mistake.
COSAR firmly believes that training and education are the keystones in the solution to this issue. We believe that the individual must accept responsibility for his or her actions and that training in proper outdoors skills and for self-rescue is the quickest and most effective method of resolving most rescue situations.
There will always be cases where the subject does something completely and obviously irresponsible, necessitating a rescue. Then the discussion starts anew about charging for rescues. Keep in mind that such cases are relatively rare.
COSAR is proud to be able to provide search and rescue at NO cost and have NO plans to charge in the future.
All other considerations aside, charging for rescues is not free, as many people may assume. There are significant costs that go along with enforcing and collecting fines which may be levied by the government. Any prosecution or fine requires enforcement, enforcement time costs a lot of money. It is also pretty common knowledge that collections are rarely straight forward and efficient.
Furthermore, fines require process to avoid injustice. That means lawyers, appeals, courts, and judges. Again, more taxpayer money. Then there is the issue of defining negligent/reckless actions that should be fined. Not easy to make this distinction since even a well-prepared person can make mistakes that could lead to the need for rescue. No one is perfect, and in the moment, any of us can make errors in judgement.
Ultimately, the search and rescue system in BC costs the taxpayer very little money. There are single municipal fire departments with bigger budgets than the entire SAR program. We are all volunteers, and we all give of ourselves freely. To charge would be to go against what we are all volunteering to do, save lives.
A Comment from the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association:
“For the nearly 2500 volunteers that belong to the 80 registered search and rescue teams in the Province of British Columbia the moral obligation of helping those in need will always take precedence over political, legal, economic and jurisdictional issues. We conduct over 1300 responses in BC each year; from urban searches for people with dementia, wilderness searches for people who become lost on hikes, to backcountry rescues using technical expertise and equipment.”
**** Thank you to the North Shore Search and Rescue for their collaboration in writing this piece