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5 December 2013

The other night I was watching one of a series of documentaries on TV. The  series is entitled The World’s Scariest… this particular one as, Near Misses. And some of the events depicted were very near misses. Not of injuries because a number of those involved were badly injured, but of death. And once the programme was finished I sat back and started wondering just when responsibility kicks in on such antics. It tied in as well with my recall of a recent event when people went up a mountain with inadequate clothing, against weather reports, were trapped, called for help, still sadly died, but put search and rescue hugely at risk – something that isn’t uncommon. So where exactly does responsibility kick in when this sort of thing happens and whose ultimate responsibility is it?

It may seem brutal, but if I go tramping, deep into the bush without telling anyone exactly where I’ll be, if I go alone, without adequate gear, and then lose or injure myself, do I have the right to expect anything up to three hundred people to risk their lives by coming into very rough country in an effort to find this one person who shouldn’t have been there under those circumstances in the first place? In the days when I had two good legs I did go tramping and deer-shooting deep into very rough bush areas. However I was never alone on the trips in and out, and  if – once we were where we were going – I was alone for a day then at least one other of my party knew where I would be, and I had more than adequate gear including a rifle, machete, heavy jacket and the multiple pockets of that filled with emergency supplies that weighed little but would provide a sleeping bag, fire, hot drinks, food and first aid at need.

Those were the days when there was no GPS system, emergency beacons, or mobile phones, and conscious of the fact that if something bad happened we’d be on our own, we tended to be more careful. I suspect that of recent years many people are less cautious because they assume that these items will bring rescuerers running right to them at need – and some find out  (painfully, or even lethally)  when an emergency occurs, that, because of weather conditions or equipment failure, this isn’t always so. And my question is, if I make  a series of really stupid mistakes, fail in common sense in a big way, and get myself into great danger, have I the right to expect others to perhaps die trying to rescue me? And I don’t think I have that right. Or rather – because no one is going to be happy leaving someone out there to die when they could perhaps be saved – in any case where large amounts have been expended in the rescue, and the rescue was necessitated because the rescuee had behaved like an idiot, then they should have to pay the cost of the rescue – which can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

To sum up, I think that the various emergency services should look at any case where saving someone has cost a sum of money over a certain base  amount, and if the accident has happened, or a rescue has been required, because of illegal acts/failure to use basic commonsense or pure damn stupidity, then the person or persons should have to pay up. If someone strolls off into the bush on unmarked and not well defined paths without bothering to check the local weather report, wearing only shorts, sandals, and t-shirt, with no food, water, or matches, and no GPS/beacon, (with the excuse that they were only going for a walk,) become completely lost and require many searchers to recover them. Then they should pay the cost.

If someone goes off-shore in a small boat without flares, without a radio/emergency beacon, lifejackets for all aboard (and wearing them) and without bothering to check the local forecast, and then needs to be rescued. They should pay the costs. If someone goes up the mountains to practice extreme skiing, base jumping, or some other lethal pursuit, and injures themselves at that pursuit, they should be saved if possible, but they should also have to repay the costs. What right has someone to risk the lives of many people, and cost tax-payers a fortune, because this person enjoys taking chances with their own life? We come to their aid physically and financially, and it is we who pay. And I believe it is time that some action was taken legally to prevent the burdon falling on us. Perhaps a few court cases in which a reckless idiot of this type did the paying might remind them that commonsense is a virtue!

I read a while ago that a driver who was alcohol impaired, and caused a major accident, involving injuries, property damage, and much distress, was charged with the cost of the fire engine/police/ambulance callout. Maybe if that was done regularly we’d be trying to rescue fewer fools, seeing fewer drunken drivers (or at least paying less in rates or taxes when they crash)… and it might even encourage the growth of commonsense. A pleasant – if unlikely – hope. As they say; nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool. And that’s all too true!

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