Every year the debate on charging for rescue rears its ugly head after media coverage of a high profile “out-of-bounds” rescue. I cringe the moment I hear the news report on these types of calls (or when I get the initial page). I know exactly what will be said, as it is the same thing year after year. I also know that the media will ask a variant of the faithful question: should those who go out-of-bounds be charged? This invariably ignites a one sided, emotionally charged public outcry based on a minuscule snapshot of information.

This year, a couple of calls from the interior have provided the fodder to kick-start our friendly neighbourhood charging for rescue debate. Let me lead into this post by stating firmly NSR’s policy: We do not support charging for rescue under any circumstances. Any delay in a call for help puts the subject and our members at greater risk. Any additional unnecessary risk in our line of work is unacceptable. You will not find a SAR professional who supports charging for rescue in BC.

For the general reasons of why we do not support charging for rescue, you can refer to the following resources:

Now for some specific clarification. “Out-of-bounds” calls account for a very small percentage of North Shore Rescue’s call volume. We are talking about less than 10% of total annual calls. Furthermore, of those few calls, most of them are dealt with by volunteer labour hours only (ie. no helicopter time or other taxpayer expenses). That means the cost to the taxpayer is actually as close to zero as it gets in the emergency services world. SAR volunteers, do this work voluntarily because they want to help people in distress. We don’t care how they got themselves into distress beyond learning what went wrong to bolster prevention through education.

In fact, North Shore Rescue actually takes further proactive steps with our partners at Metro Vancouver, the mountains, and the local municipalities in creating back-country safety caches, advocating for signage, and other proactive projects like a trail head camera initiative our team has put forward. Furthermore, NSR has been engaged by the North Shore School Board to look at adding more outdoor educational content to their curriculum.

The real problem with the debate extends far beyond the target of the debate, the out-of-bounds “offender”. The public shaming, and the outcry for charges actually create indecision and delay in those who have become legitimately lost or injured. In fact we had a call this summer for a lost hiker who wandered for hours rather than calling for help because she was under the impression she would be charged due to media coverage during the winter. This went from a straight forward assist-call into a full team activation. The majority of calls are for a momentary lapse in judgement that results in a trail being lost or a accident that has led to an injury. However,  we do not discriminate. Our mission, or credo, is to be there for others in their time of need. The line “So Others May Live,” sums it up well.

Last night I was doing some social media work and I noticed a tweet from @HopeFireDept that I think was particularly useful in helping people understand our mindsets: “some things you can’t fix. In my world I help people 1st. #noquestions“. Compassion is more important than a need to vindicate a perceived wrong by a small number of people. The scary thing is, even those who have taken precautions, done their homework, and are well-equipped are affected by the public shaming that occurs in our media and day to day communications. It may feel good, and right, to throw someone under the bus for bad decision making, but it doesn’t help me, my colleagues or your tax dollars at all.

What I hope readers will takeaway is that when talking about charges for rescues, think broader than a series of media stories which represent less than a few percentage points of the total SAR calls in this province. Think about the effects it has on everyone, think about the safety of me and my fellow SAR professionals, and think about how you would want to be treated if it were you or your loved one in trouble. It is easy to cast judgment from the couch; I assure you, it is not so easy when you are in the trenches dealing with these calls.

Although not directly related to charging for rescue, the following article points to a number of issues with shaming victims and how a culture shift is needed that allows for learning lessons and prevention of future incidents: http://sportgevity.com/article/changing-culture-shame-0. If we can move away from blame, and shaming victims/subjects, we can hopefully have more outcomes like Sebastien Boucher, with out-of-bounds rescuees becoming advocates for education and prevention.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope that everyone will have a safe and enjoyable New Years. Fingers crossed for some snow in the local mountains, so we can all get up and enjoy some safe, responsible winter recreation.

NS4 and Lions Bay SAR-2

Stock Winter SAR Photo