EDITORIAL: Costing the searches

Do you believe people who get lost should be billed for the services of search and rescue organizations?

You likely don’t pay much attention to them until you need them.

Search and Rescue organizations have become crucial players in the emergency services sphere of B.C. Unlike most fire and police departments, the people who head to the back country to find lost, injured or foolish people are volunteers.

Arrowsmith Search and Rescue (ASAR) in this region has about 25 active members and operates strictly on donations and grants. In 2015, ASAR spent more than $40,000 on search efforts, not including the cost of equipment. It was a busy year for ASAR, with 38 calls in 2015.

Not surprisingly, technological advancements — like GPS readily available on cell phones — have added much to search and rescue efforts.

Back to costs. There has been a debate in recent years about who should be responsible for the cost of a search and rescue effort. Some people believe people who get lost — then found by search and rescue — should be presented with a bill for services.

Local search manager Gord Yelland doesn’t think that’s a good idea. He says friends and relatives of those who are lost might take matters into their own hands if they believe there is a hefty invoice at the end. That means more untrained people with rudimentary equipment heading to the back country, possibly getting lost or injured themselves.

The billing debate has different levels. Should a thrill-seeking skier or snowboarder who deliberately heads out of bounds be treated differently than someone who took a wrong turn on a hike or broke an ankle and can’t get to safety without help?

We know volunteers in organizations like ASAR don’t differentiate between those they are trying to help. They cannot — and do not — provide different levels of service, regardless of circumstances.

A life is a life. The fool who skis out of bounds is just as human, has just as many friends and relatives who will miss him, as the person who has fallen on a hike.

We defer to Yelland. His argument against billing those who are lost is sound. That brings us back to funding. We would hope those who have been rescued would make substantial donations, if they have the means. And we applaud local governments for continuing to support ASAR. These organizations have become vital, essential services. We all need to ensure they get what they need to do the good work they perform.

— Editorial by John Harding

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