Years ago, a solo climber on the south side of Quandary Peak got disoriented and stuck. She called 911 and our on-call mission coordinator contacted her by cell phone. She repeatedly refused assistance and said she just wanted to be talked out of the area. This particular area of Quandary is dangerous and it was after dark when she called. After going back and forth with her for some time, the coordinator finally asked why she didn't want help and her answer was, "I can't afford it.” Once he explained to her that there would be no charge, she instantly decided she would like some help and the team deployed and assisted her out.
This is one of many examples across the state of Colorado of the misperceptions regarding charges for backcountry rescue. If you are rescued by one of Colorado’s all-volunteer search and rescue teams you won't be charged for the cost of your rescue. You’ll only incur charges for two things:
- Medical care by ambulance service personnel, if you need it
- Medical transport, by ambulance or helicopter
What the Quandary example and many others like it illustrate is that the practice of charging for rescue, or the misperception about it, is dangerous, both for the rescue subject and the rescuers. When people delay calling for help it gets later and darker and the weather gets worse. Injuries are aggravated further, hypothermia sets in, patients go into shock. Now the rescue is more challenging and the results may be worse; in some cases, the result may even be a fatality. And rescuers that might have been able to find or rescue someone in the afternoon and been home in time for dinner are now getting out of their beds at 3:00 am and battling sub-zero temperatures.
We are not the only ones who believe strongly that rescue subjects should not be charged. Our position is consistent with the policies of the National Search and Rescue Association (NASAR), the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA), and the Colorado Search and Rescue Association (CSAR). Many people we rescue do make donations to support SCRG, but these are entirely voluntary.