To Pay or Not To Pay

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?

This entry was posted in accidents, adults, arguments, beer, behavior, emergency, taxes, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to To Pay or Not To Pay

  1. mssc54 says:

    I may not be the first one to come up with the OBVIOUS ANSWER but here it is.

    The guys who were successfully rescued should send the rescuers a bill for a “Real Time” training exercise.

    You know those rescuers will use the ol “Well you remember those drunk-ass boaters that went over dam? That’s right I rescued their drunk behinds! Oh yeh, I’m well qualified for this job” thing on monsterjob.com! 🙂

  2. SKL says:

    Where I used to live, they used to send you a bill for $50 (would be more like $100 today) if an ambulance came for you. Regardless of fault, stupidity, etc. People didn’t like it, but if you think about it, a fair % of these rides are just part of an overall bad choice (often involving too much alcohol). On the other hand, what if you have a real emergency but you’re reluctant to run up a $50 bill? I remember when I was 17, babysitting for some hillbillies who forgot to mention their kid had croup or whooping cough or whatever horrible-sounding disease. The kid woke up and started struggling for breath. I was scared to call in an emergency, because what if I was just being stupid and they couldn’t afford the $50? (Luckily I was able to call my mom, who suggested making the baby breathe steam, which solved the problem.)

    Here’s what I think. These guys (or at least one of them) committed a crime and should be prosecuted. The punishment should include a fine that recognizes the cost of the emergency services. Maybe next time, they will think twice before they pull an irresponsible stunt like that. But for someone who has not committed a crime, the service should be provided for free or at a nominal cost.

  3. Ellen says:

    I think they have to pay the bill, or do community time. This has indeed been a crime, and it should be well known as a “law”, that if you behave irresponsible, and the results of your behavior cost tax payer’s money, you have to “pay”.

  4. shanef says:

    I really don’t know which way to go on this. For 1 the guy that got charged with BUI is going to be paying some big fines already. Then, what if these boaters where unaware of the dam. Also taxpayer money is already going directly to all the rescuers involved. That’s like saying a person who fell asleep while smoking and burnt the house down should have to pay back all the $$$ for gas, wages, water usage, etc. etc.

    Honestly I don’t feel they should have to pay for everything, isn’t being plastered all over the news as drunken idiots bad enough?

  5. Joy says:

    Boy. I’m with Shane here. I don’t know what to think. I know that it’s pretty hard to put a blanket”stupid” clause on helping someone. People do dumb things but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they should be helped. If you do “this” or “that,” we think that’s dumb so you’ll have to pay to be saved. That just doesn’t sound right. Stupid is as stupid does but if it comes down to life or death, we as a people have to help them. If people knew they had to pay to be saved, they might not call and then would they be charged with a crime? Like say if a child was hurt or something. Like a lot of people don’t go to the eye doctor if they need glasses or go to the doctor if they need to. When the “pay” work comes into it, people get weird.

    I don’t know. I think we need to help people but mssc does have a really good point. It would be neat to have a learning posse available to help in these kinds of situations. But how could they be “on call?” I’m not sure that could work but it sounds good.

  6. Laura says:

    This one hits close to home for me. Steve was in a “stupid is as stupid does” wreck a couple of years ago, and it nearly killed him. EMS responded and he had to be airlifted to two different hospitals. I was billed, not only for the ambulance – which never carried him – but also for two helicopter rides. $110 for the ambulance to respond, approximately $11,000 for the helicopter rides. He was never charged for the circumstances that put him in the hospital, but only because the officer who responded to the scene assumed (and no one can blame him) that Steve would die, and the officer didn’t want to burden the family with those kinds of legal charges.

    I admit, I was surprised that we had to pay for the ambulance. Upon further investigation, I found out that our (rural) locals don’t have ambulances – we only have fire-response equipment. If you need an ambulance to respond, they contract out to private carriers.

    We have had to have the fire department out here, once for a ditch fire that got out of hand (our neighbor’s, not ours), and once for a funky smell in our house that my brother insisted was propane leaking, but turned out to be my washer. (it’s a story for another day, believe me) Neither time – and both could be considered “stupid calls” – did we receive a bill for the response.

    I think we walk a very slippery slope when public servants start charging for their services. I almost have a problem with them making the decision to contract out private contractors and then passing the bill on to me – like the ambulance (honestly, public schools fall into this category, as well). The helicopter charge? I get that. It’s very expensive to run and keep a helicopter. But when governmental entities are taxing me on every move that I make so that I have these services available to me, and then turn around and hand me a bill when I use them? THAT I have a problem with.

    It’s an even slippery slope when we attach a moral judgment to the charge. At that point, who decides what is stupid and what isn’t? These guys in the boat – perhaps all but the driver were drunk (I know, that’s not the case), but they were screwing around. The driver is yelling, “Knock it off, guys! We’re gonna get hurt!” They keep messing around, because they’re drunk, and the boat goes over. Are you then going to charge the operator for being “stupid”? Because it was pretty stupid to be out there with a bunch of drunkards, but he was sober… they were acting stupid, but it truly was an accident… who decides?

    Nope. Taxes are charged for emergency services. If services are getting expensive to run, find another place to cut spending, and maybe have a “cost of living” increase every two years or something. But don’t double charge me.

  7. Just a Mom says:

    I don’t think they should charge for these services. It’s their job and we already pay taxes for these services.

  8. starlaschat says:

    We get a lot of this sort of thing in Montana, people needing to be rescued from the rivers or the wilderness. I guess I have mixed feelings. If a person is well prepared and is going on what would usually be a safe adventure then I say rescue no bill. But, on the other hand who’s to say whats safe or stupid? Hmmm I can see where this can get sticky.

  9. Laura says:

    I heard an idea once, that I thought would be a good one, for those climbers and “adventure enthusiasts” that you find out West – the mountain climbers, white-water rafters, etc. There could be an insurance policy that they could buy for whatever they’re doing (maybe this already exists, I don’t know) that would kick in if they needed rescue, and would pick up the tab for it. So, if you’re going to go climb Mt. Everest, you’d take out a policy for, say, $50K. Then, when you get lost, that policy kicks in, and covers the first $50K of your rescue. It wouldn’t cover medical – it’s assumed that your regular insurance would cover that – this would be only for the cost of the rescue itself.

    That makes sense to me, for things like that.

    But just regular life? I still have a problem with the government (which is who it would be making the decisions) deciding what is “stupid” and what isn’t. I mean, come on… who is it that MAKES UP the government in the first place????? Nancy Pelosi? You want HER deciding what’s stupid??? (ok, I’ll shut up now, I can feel the rant)

  10. SKL says:

    Another option is to charge a tax for the privilege of boating in a place where rescue services are available. Add it to the license fee or whatever. That way it’s spread around but people who go out in boats have to pitch in more than people who don’t.

    When I went to Alaska, I heard of something like that. If you are going to hike this cool trail, you pay like $50 up front. They give you ideas to be safe, rent / sell you the right equipment if you don’t have it, and keep track of whether you came out when you expected to. If you don’t come out or if you call for help, they go in and find you. (Considering there are lots of grizzly bears up there, you want someone watching your back.)

    I do feel taxes should pay for these rescues, but at the same time, there should be an incentive to be careful in the first place.

  11. You’re right they do look more innocent in the picture.

    • Laura says:

      Yeah, those things can be wicked. I won’t let Josh fish near them without a life jacket on, and I watch him like a hawk.

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