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Government_Watch_Dog

Rescue Cost Recovery

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Some of you referred to the debate, I found this on Saturday.

 

Climbers, officials say keep rescue costs public

 

Saturday, June 1, 2002

 

By TOM PAULSON

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

 

This week's deaths on Mount Rainier and Mount Hood -- and the related crash of a $10 million military helicopter -- have rekindled public debate over whether mountain climbers should be better regulated and held responsible for rescue costs.

 

Both are bad ideas, say park officials and climbers, and would neither make climbing any safer nor rescue operations any more efficient.

 

"Because of all the media attention given to climbing accidents, climbers are getting singled out unfairly on this," said Mark Gunlogson, a vice president of Mountain Madness, a Seattle-based guiding firm.

 

Taxpayers may grumble, but the cost of rescuing the few climbers who run into trouble every year is much lower than the cost of assisting many more people engaging in other outdoor sports and activities, he said.

 

Mike Gauthier, lead climbing ranger and chief of rescue operations at Mount Rainier National Park, agreed. Gauthier said climbers make up only a fraction of the $3 million or so spent by the National Park Service every year on search-and-rescue operations.

 

"Most of our costs at Rainier, for example, are for searches involving hikers," he said.

 

Elaine Sevy, spokeswoman for the Park Service in Washington, D.C., said that's true nationwide. The agency responded to 3,619 search or rescue incidents last year and 1,270 of them involved hikers, Sevy said. Only 202 involved climbers. Swimmers required assistance in 780 incidents and boaters called for help 495 times.

 

Even the category of "other," with 540 incidents, beat out climbers.

 

"More and more people are climbing, including a lot more people who don't seem to know the risks," Gunlogson acknowledged. "So I'm actually surprised there aren't more accidents with all the wacky stuff I see going on."

 

Climbers are already singled out for the costs of rescue operations at some of the bigger peaks, such as Rainier and Denali, he said. Climbers pay $15 at Rainier and $150 at Denali to get their climbing permit, Gunlogson said, while backpackers pay nothing.

 

"I don't know any climbers who have any problem with paying the fee," he said. But if climbers are going to have to pay for their own rescues, Gunlogson said, so should all the hikers and anyone else who might need the assistance.

 

"In the Alps, they require you to buy climbing insurance for rescues," he said.

 

But all that seems to do, Gunlogson argued, is give people a false sense of security, "which is why they have to do so many more rescues over there every year."

 

Gauthier, who last year did a study on the issue at Denali for the Park Service, said there are a number of reasons why it's best to keep search-and-rescue operations in the realm of public service. Europe's experience with the insurance approach, he said, indicates that making payment for rescue explicit can actually encourage more risky behavior.

 

A less obvious effect of making people pay the costs of a rescue, Gauthier said, is that it could alter the legal relationship between the victim and the rescuers in a disturbing way.

 

"Right now, we have the discretion of deciding whether or not to conduct a search-and-rescue operation and how to do it," he said. If a victim is required to pay for this service, Gauthier said, some might challenge certain decisions -- such as whether to send a helicopter or when to send rescuers.

 

"A guy who gets frostbite and loses a foot might decide to sue us because we waited two hours for the weather to clear," he said. "We could end up paying more for lawyers by trying to charge people for the costs of the operation."

 

Conversely, Sevy added, some in need of help might not call for assistance because they are worried about the cost.

 

"We don't want people in danger to hesitate to call for help," she said.

 

Even though $3 million sounds like a lot, Sevy said it's "relatively small" when considered in light of the Park Service's $2 billion annual budget.

 

"It's about a penny per park visitor -- quite a bargain," Gauthier said. He noted that the costs of using the military helicopters -- including the costs of the crash at Mount Hood -- are all factored into the Army's budget for training and not passed on to the parks.

 

The idea of regulating who gets to climb mountains is equally unworkable, according to the experts.

 

"That will never happen," said Gunlogson. "These are public lands. The idea that you would have to pass some test to get access to them is ridiculous."

 

Most park rangers already do a great job of educating climbers when they apply for the permit, he said. Making it more bureaucratic will only put climbers and rangers at odds with each other and add costs.

 

"If we were to screen people and base it on the statistics, we'd probably only allow novices on the mountain," Gauthier said with a laugh. "It's usually the intermediate to more advanced users that get in trouble."

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It is good to see the media print the "climbers" view on the issue. I'd say it is a well written article that hits the main points quite well.

 

Way to be Mark G and Mike G. [big Drink]

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I find it amazing that this subject always rears it's head when something tragic happens. Mike made great points about not being legally required to perform a rescue. If that were the case, then all it would take is one shithead and their lawyer to gouge the park service for millions. The actual cost of a rescue is a bargain considerring that almost everyone is a volunteer.

By contrast no one seemed to be very upset when about a month ago, on an abandoned Indonesian freighter near Hawaii, they rescued a dog that had been left on the freighter at sea. Apparently the rescue cost about $50,000! WTF! [Eek!][hell no][Eek!] All for a friggin mut. How much money is it going to cost both USA, and Canada to do something with this orphaned baby killer whale in Puget Sound? Probably half a million! I think the general public needs to place the costs in perspective.

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FYI: There is to be a discussion on "mountain climbing" on KUOW today at 11am PDT. Streaming audio at KUOW.

My perception is that it will be about the costs of rescues, but all they said was "mountain climbing."

 

[ 06-03-2002, 09:49 AM: Message edited by: jules ]

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Yesterday I searched the Oregonian's (www.oregonlive.com) letters to the editor for the past week, and I was surprised to find only one letter from an outraged citizen. Maybe, just maybe, the non-climbing public is a little more informed than we think. Still, maybe we should all bookmark this article, and every time some hysterical person whose afraid to venture farther than a quarter mile from a trailhead writes an ill-informed letter to the editor, we should respond with the real stats.

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I have a question for Mr. Gauthier and the MRNP rangers. Mike, the way you're quoted in the article makes it sound like the rangers never, ever refuse to let anyone on the mountain, even if they're grossly unprepared, because this would tread on their legal rights as taxpayers on public land. Can this really be true? Would you give the go-ahead to a party carrying day packs, wearing shorts and tennies? I hope you guys have the authority to say NO to the obvious pending disasters, otherwise why take the trouble to screen every party?

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"this would tread on their legal rights as taxpayers on public land. Can this really be true?"

 

Norm:

 

Yes it is.

 

My impression/understanding is that the NPS doesn't actually "screen" with the intent to allow or refuse access...but to inform climbers and hikers of the dangers, the conditions, and of the need for equipment and training when applicable.

 

This is America (I know it sounds cheesy - and you Canucks genrally fit in here too) and we are all free to get ourselves killed. You don't need to "go ahead" to get killed or seriously hurt. You are free to do so when ever you wish. And the public lands are open for you to do so. That is why we call them public lands.

 

Somewhat joking, but still very serious. [big Drink]

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Norman Clyde,

 

I don't believe the rangers have to authority to tell anyone they can't climb. Nor should they be in the business of 'qualifying' folks to climb. If that were the case, then it could be an additional liability. If someone were to get hurt or die, a huge lawsuit could be initiated on the basis that the rangers told them specifically they were fit and prepared to climb.

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Just in case you wanted to tune in, KUOW is not airing a show currently on "mountain climbing."

 

And I just heard from a friend who has seen someone head out of camp on Rainier wearing cowboy boots for his summit attempt. [Eek!]

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The KUOW show is being broadcast at "the noon hour". Not sure the exact starting time that means (sounds like they actually start it noon). It is a "Talk of the Nation" program, part of NPR.

 

And regarding denying access to gumbies, there have been earlier reports listed in Accidents in North American Mountaineering where they have escorted at least one climber of "diminished mental capacity" back down from the Ingraham area. He was apparently climbing solo (which probably gave them a good excuse) wearing a construction hard hat and work boots, if I remember right. I seem to recall they released him to the custody of his wife.

 

[ 06-03-2002, 11:43 AM: Message edited by: mtnnut ]

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Imagine the park rangers "screening" for things beyond diminished metal capacity. Such as "diminished equipment capacity" or in the case of plenty of gear but no ability..."enhanced gumby capacity."

 

I can see the poor rangers now...no funding, little training, and somehow trying to decide who is a gumby, who is competant, etc. God that would be a nightmare.

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I am a gumby and I will still push and likely make the summit with 30 packets of Gu a fleece jacket and aluminum stubai crampons on my 5.tennies and walking stick across any glacier [Wink]

 

Maybe the statement should read somewhere in there-

 

determining who is a dumb gumby and who is not [Razz]

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quote:

Originally posted by Rodchester:

My impression/understanding is that the NPS doesn't actually "screen" with the intent to allow or refuse access...but to inform climbers and hikers of the dangers, the conditions, and of the need for equipment and training when applicable.

I saw a Mt. Rainier ranger inform a Russian guy very thoroughly after RMI guides convinced him to come back down to Muir. The fellow looked fit, but was wearing only a tank top, shorts, and leather hiking boots. He had one ski pole and a small backpack, and was seen at Ingraham Flats around 11am, heading up. The ranger was very cool, but pretty firm with the guy, and eventually convinced him to abandon his attempt at the summit. It seemed like the responsible thing to do.

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I often wonder about the $$$$ quoted by media sources as the "cost of the rescue". For example, if a figure of $50,000 is quoted, this is generally accepted to be the cost of the helicopter, crew/manhours, NPS personnel involved, etc, etc.

 

My question is this: What percentage of that dollar amount quoted as "cost of rescue" is incedental? After all, most of those paid rescuers involved were "on the clock" anyway weren't they? If the military air personnel involved weren't up rescuing Joe Climber would they not still be collecting a paycheck? Would their Chinook not still be consuming fuel doing training business? Would the NPS rangers involved be training anyway? Are dollar values assigned to volunteers?? Is the value of this hands-on training subtracted from future rescue costs?

 

I don't know how the cost of a rescue is calculated, and I don't know if my questions are valid. But I suspect that when a figure is tossed out by the media like $50,000, the true cost of the rescue is much, much less.

 

[ 06-03-2002, 10:37 PM: Message edited by: Fairweather ]

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Fairweather,

My neighbor is one of the crew for the Chinook helos and they require training time and they use a rescue on Rainier (they are the copters that can go that high) as part of the time allocated for that purpose. Plus they like having a mission rather than just going out and flying around. So yes from a budget point of view it is a reallocated issue, which means that if they report more for a rescue, it means less in the training amount on budget.

Either way, they like it and consider a climber rescue or a lost hunter as learning, not like they are called out on a special run to help someone with a cell phone and causing overtime.

I think that what is reported as a cost for a rescue is not a real cost, except if the helocopter crashes, but then again didnt a Coast Guard boat crash at La Push trying to recover a fishing boat a year or two back?

TTT [Roll Eyes]

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Let me ring out and say that I spent 7 years in the army. I jumped out of copter and planes and jets.

 

I can tell you that many officers and soldiers\military personnel take pride in their jobs and especially in rescue ... the pride runs deep in that area rightly so. I can only take my hat off to any of them and all of them. I hope they still remain bold and trained well. It is in some way considered training sometimes when these personnel are actually not "training" but rescuing but I am sure they get the right pay for them as well as personal and public gratitude they deserve.

 

Indeed they are true heroes.

 

I am sad to hear of deaths and injuries also knowing they are unavoidable.

 

Nobody wants a rescue and nobody wants the media attention. I may talk jokingly about others needing it but only jokingly and never when an injury or death occurs. That is sad. I think that if you are a climber and may need it like me then get insurance or think about it. It seems wise and right.

 

I can only say that maybe rescue insurance which I am buying this week through the AAC is a good idea [smile]

 

[ 06-03-2002, 11:28 PM: Message edited by: Cpt.Caveman ]

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Caveman...that is one of the coolest things you have ever said here.

 

Brief story:

A friend of mine who happens to be a guide, had to be rescued of a gnarly mixed route in Scotland.

 

(The full details of the epic, which are absolutely hilarious, are much better heard over beers. All I can say is, "BOB...I think I'm fucked Bob! BOB, here is what I want you to do! BOB, turn around and start yelling for HELP! Yell louder BOB!)

 

Anyway, eventually sometime in the middle of the night they made it down from the route. They said thankyou and huged all their rescuers, and tried to slip out the back of the crowd...then one rescuer says, "wait, where you goin, we got the chopper comin for you guys to take you to the hospital..."

 

Fab, seeing $$$ signs, winces and says uuuuhh, thats really unessecary, were fine, thank you, we'll walk out to the car now...The resure says, no, chopper left the base five minutes ago. A minute later a giant Chinook comes out of nowhere and blows my buddy on his ass.

 

Turns out, to my buddies great relieif, that rescues in Scotland are free, no questions asked. The government writes it off as Military training. The whole rescue crew was way psyched just to be out in the middle of the night takin care of buisness!

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climberbro16,

 

Nope but I just have respect and understand as I have been in the military in combat zone with infantry unit....

 

I learned how to climb from a friend that was in the army and not related to any military training. I am just relating what I feel is true.

 

I can talk a lot of trash about the military but one thing is true- once the shit hits the fan they are serious and dedicated as well as trained well...

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By the way, Fab's rendition of that epic is over 45 minutes long, and makes for a wonderfull time killer in a cramped bascamp tent. I'd highly recomed his service if you are ever in Europe or Nepal.

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Also let me mention that those military personnel train for rescue on weekend sunny days weh all our asses are trying to have a good time.

 

I went through ranger school with 3 AF Para Rescue dudes. They all finished 3 of 3 at a good pass rate considering army rate was 28% and marines at 21% finish rate.

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