I live in an area where there are a lot of “roller dams”. They’re not as big as the ones in that link, more like the one that’s in the picture, just so you have a point of reference.
Last weekend, a couple of guys in a fishing boat went over the dam and had to be rescued. Two were taken to local hospitals, but none were seriously injured. The driver of the boat was charged with a BWI (boating while intoxicated, affectionately referred to as a “bouy”). And thus, the controversy started.
Listening to the radio yesterday, a lively debate took place over whether these gentlemen should be sent a bill for the rescue services which came to their aid.
“These guys were drunk and being stupid,” one caller said. “They should be sent a bill for the cost of the First Responders and all the equipment, including gas to power the trucks and stuff. The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for that.”
I understand the outrage… At least one of the guys was intoxicated enough to receive a BWI. It’s general knowledge around here that, unless you’re a very experienced kayaker (and possibly out of your mind), you stay away from those roller dams. They’re deceiving. They look all low and innocent, but there’s a “backwash” that you can get caught in. You can see it in the video – the boat is overturned and caught at the base of the dam and cannot escape. But these guys were fishing and either too drunk or not observant enough or whatever to notice that they were getting too close to the dam and they went over.
But then I have to ask – where does that end? Where do you draw the line? Part of the taxes that I pay go to maintain local Fire Departments, Police Departments, and other departments of public service. Those departments exist to serve the public. Yes, it takes gasoline to fuel those trucks. I’ve paid my taxes to provide that fuel. Yes, even the volunteer responders get paid for their services. I’ve paid my taxes to provide those salaries. Where do you draw the line?
That question was posed during the conversation on the radio. Yes, these guys were drunk and stupid. But what about the guy who falls asleep next to a burning cigarette and burns down his house? What about the kid who sticks a bowl of macaroni and cheese in the microwave with a spoon in it, and starts a fire? Some might say that both of those people are “stupid”, or “ignorant”, or attach other labels. But should they be charged for the rescue efforts?
This question is posed often out West, where rock climbing is a popular sport. At least once a year, you hear about a climbing party that has gotten lost, either in a blizzard, or in a storm, or they simply got off track, and a massive search-and-rescue operation is launched. Some of those people, it has been argued, should be charged for the rescue efforts, ‘because they shouldn’t have been up there in the first place.’
When is it “stupid” and when is it an “accident”? Who determines the criteria? And when is the rescue covered by taxpayer money, and when do they charge?