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Ask Marilyn: More on Rescuing Foolish People
Daniel Tucker of Wasilla, Alaska, writes:
Marilyn: I read your column without fail every Sunday. I learn from it and am entertained by it. Occasionally I am frustrated or inflamed by it. This is one of those times. The subject was whether folks who ignore evacuation orders, and are imperiled and must eventually be rescued, be charged for their rescues. (December 9, 2012) I speak from the perspective of a 35-year firefighter and retired battalion chief in Anchorage, Alaska.
Even highly trained and well-regimented rescuers are at risk of injury or death while doing the jobs they do. Untrained citizens have no business trying to out-think, out-run, out-maneuver, or survive a known peril. Emergency planners and responders spend years dissecting events of the past and situations on the horizon and use their education, knowledge, experience, and training to issue warnings of catastrophic events. Even an idiot can see that a ten-foot wave will overwhelm a eight-foot roof, but some idiots foolishly believe that their pitiful wood-framed house can sustain the impact of the wave and act like a boat to keep the water out after it hits. Concrete buildings have been demolished by hurricane-force winds or tornados. And human bodies have been washed onshore for hundreds of feet, if not miles in some on-shore events. Buildings have been crushed by snow, torrential winds, and so on.
And always, lives are then risked to "save" people who defied orders to evacuate. Risking lives to save those who ignore or, more to the point, defy evacuation orders is not only foolish—it should be illegal. Your response seems to reward those who assume that risk with an assurance that their dangerous and callous act of not evacuating is okay. Believe me when I say the most dangerous thing at a high-stakes event is a rogue or undisciplined victims. I use the term victims because if their stand doesn't work, they may die, or worse, become a person requiring rescue which—back to the start—implies that others will risk their lives to rescue them. Is it worth crashing a rescue helicopter and crew to rescue people who could have safely evacuated from the roof of a home during a storm? Really, is it? This is wrong. Foolhardy.
The last thing I ever wanted to do was to order my crews into a far-less-than-ideal situation to look for someone who wasn't supposed to be there or had no business going there in the first place.
As for the risk-takers, such as mountain climbers and high-wire-walkers, who intentionally challenge the odds, fully knowing the potential risks—they should have to buy insurance before they take their risk. They should have to pay for their rescues. They should be required to sign documents that acknowledge they have no expectation of people risking their lives to rescue these thrill-seekers. If nothing else, this part refers to the public good and public expense. I'm sick of spending thousands or, in some cases, millions to rescue someone who made a free-will choice to risk his or her life against the odds. It's just not fair.
Thank you so much for your visceral, thoughtful response, Dan. I replied to another reader on this subject (January 1, 2013), part of which I'll repeat here. To make mandatory evacuations more effective, I suggest a stiff fine for everyone who doesn't evacuate, regardless of whether a rescue ever becomes necessary. If mandatory evacuations are accompanied by mandatory fines, the penalty will be real, not just a possibility that offenders are confident will not occur.
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