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Crews, equipment add up to costly river rescue costs

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  • Crews, equipment add up to costly river rescue costs

    FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - When rescuers pulled 16 teens on a canoe
    outing from the rain-swollen Rappahannock River, nobody was
    thinking about how much it would cost.
    The firefighters, paramedics and police officers were just happy
    that no one drowned during the dramatic July Fourth rescue.
    But had the teens been required to pay up, they would have had
    to dig deep to cover the tab.
    Minutes after the boats from the Shiloh Quaker Camp in Madison
    County tipped in the rapids off Fredericksburg's Riverside Drive,
    rescuers were rushing to the scene.
    At one point there were two fire trucks on hand, two rescue
    vehicles, a command car and three city police officers. It costs
    about $100 each time one of the trucks leaves the building on a
    call. That doesn't include the time of more than a dozen rescuers,
    some of whom were on the scene for more than two hours.
    "You're probably talking 30-man hours there," said Herbert
    Pritchett, captain of the Fredericksburg Fire Department.
    That one call cost city taxpayers more than $6,500, Pritchett
    Three city police officers were on hand to help and to redirect
    Jim Shelhorse, spokesman for the Fredericksburg Police
    Department, said that because the rescue happened on a holiday, the
    department already had its hands full.
    "It was a busy day and we certainly had other things (the
    officers) could be doing," Shelhorse said.
    "It's ridiculous that people are in the river" when it's high
    and dangerous, "but it's not against the law," he said.
    Chris Smith, chief of the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department,
    said the costs and staffing are comparable on the Stafford County
    side, with a fire engine, paramedics, ambulance, two boats and a
    special marine rescue truck.
    There are other hidden costs: Already this year, two Stafford
    rescuers have been injured on the river. One hurt his knee, another
    sustained a back injury.
    "The problem is that it's becoming a nuisance - not the rescue
    itself, but the complacency of people" who use the river unwisely,
    Smith said. He said fairly regular false alarms require rescuers on
    both sides of the river to respond in force.
    During a normal year, the Rappahannock in June and July becomes
    a placid, meandering stream. But this year, because of heavy rains,
    more calls to help swimmers and boaters in distress have been
    flooding in.
    When there's a drowning - there have been two so far this year -
    the search-and-rescue effort is even more complicated and
    time-consuming because it is followed by recovery, which involves
    boats, divers and sometime helicopters. Not that anyone is punching
    a calculator when people accidentally run into trouble on the
    Pritchett said the city fire department in a typical year may
    have three or four river rescues and maybe a dozen calls to the
    Rappahannock. At this year's pace, there are likely to be many
    Fredericksburg and Falmouth fire departments train for river
    emergencies and get help from paid and volunteer workers and river
    After a spate of rescue calls a few years ago, there was some
    discussion in the city about passing along some of the costs to
    those being rescued. No action was taken.
    Stafford, whose boundary goes up to the Fredericksburg shore,
    has a measure on the books, though it's rarely, if ever, enforced.
    It covers a section of the Rappahannock from Embrey Dam to the
    Falmouth Bridge.
    Anyone not wearing a life jacket who requires rescue while the
    river is in the yellow level - 1.5 feet to 4 feet - can be fined up
    to $100. If the river is in the red, or danger, level at 4 feet or
    above, even someone wearing a life jacket can be subject to a fine
    of up to $100 after rescue. The ordinance adds that anyone rescued
    when the water is at yellow or red levels can be assessed rescue
    No one has been fined or assessed costs in recent years, but the
    number of rescues so far this spring has authorities revisiting the
    statute, said Lt. Bryant Halstead of the Stafford Sheriff's Office.
    "Normally this is not a problem, but we've seen an excessive
    amount of rescues this year," he said.
    Similar scenarios have been playing out on rivers around the
    country. For example, rescuers have been called to Great Falls
    along the Potomac River several times in recent weeks; three people
    have drowned. In each case, rescuers and the National Park Service,
    which maintains a park there, are involved.
    Many areas require paddlers to secure permits before using the
    river. Some, such as Richmond, require permits for anyone on the
    James when the river level is at 9 feet or higher. Anyone without a
    permit can be fined.
    Several states, including California, allow jurisdictions to
    charge victims or their families for search-and-rescue costs.
    Jason Robertson, access director for the national boating group
    American Whitewater in Silver Spring, Md., said who should foot the
    bill in river rescues is a perennial topic of discussion,
    especially during prolonged periods of high water.
    America's rivers are generally viewed much as a public sidewalk
    or highway, Robertson said. "Rescue costs are things that we as a
    society have agreed to accept" as a public service. But as costs
    continue to rise, that view may be changing.
    Robertson said there have been instances where rescued parties
    have been charged with reckless endangerment by local police. "But
    it's hard to make that stick," he said. "I'm not aware of anybody
    who's been prosecuted."
    The Free Lance-Star is published in Fredericksburg.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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  • #2
    If they wanna play, they have to pay!

    In the same vein, the State of New Hampshire allows the emergency services to bill for the cost of rescue efforts for those individuals who put themselves into dangerous situatons without the proper equipment or training.
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
    Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY


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