Search and rescue assistance card program helps cover county's emergency costs

Tuesday , June 06, 2017 - 5:15 AM

MATILYN MORTENSEN, Standard-Examiner

A new Utah search and rescue assistance card is providing another way for people to contribute to the statewide Search and Rescue Financial Assistance Fund and help county officials better respond to outdoor emergencies.

For a fee of $25 a year for individuals and $35 a year for families, interested individuals can buy a search and rescue assistance card that will help prevent people from paying search and rescue fees if they need help in the backcountry.

The annual fee will go into the Search and Rescue Financial Assistance Fund to help reimburse county sheriff’s offices for search and rescue expenses.

“(The card) gives additional support to the program for more reimbursed funds, specifically in equipment costs that go back to statewide sheriffs’ funds,” said Weber County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Toll.

Parts of fees charged for hunting and fishing licenses as well as ATV registrations already go to this fund, Toll said, but hikers, bikers and climbers are the majority of the people who receive search and rescue assistance. Before the card’s creation, there no way for those individuals to contribute to the fund. 

Although the assistance card aims to help prevent people from paying rescue fees, Toll said the Weber County Sheriff’s Department rarely charges people for rescues. 

Not all Utah sheriff’s departments provide search and rescue services at no cost, often due to the sheer volume of rescue calls compared to the county’s resources.

For instance, Grand County Search and Rescue received 153 calls for help last year, according to Jim Webster, the commander of the Grand County Search and Rescue. Most of those calls come from people visiting the county, Webster said. 

In comparison, Toll said Weber county received 20 to 30 calls last year. 

Reimbursement money from the fund will go specifically to help cover costs for rescue, training and equipment, Toll said.

Utah has a variety of popular national parks and out door recreational activities, especially in the southern portion of the state. However, these areas do have risks. Outsideonline.com named Glen Canyon National Recreational Area in the top 10 most deadliest national parks in the country. Two Utah hikes, Angel’s Landing and The Maze, were named among the top 20 most dangerous hikes in the world by the same website. 

Even if people have purchased the card, if the county can prove negligence on the part of individual, that person can still be charged for the rescue costs.

Nevertheless, Toll said search and rescue does not want individuals to hesitate to call for help. This is part of the reason Weber avoids charging individuals for search and rescue services.

“I just don’t want people to think that this is an insurance card, that if they have this card it entitles them to a helicopter ride of the mountain if they are tired,” Toll said. 

Additionally, Toll said the program does not cover medical transportation or care.

Individuals from out of state can purchase the assistance card as well. For more information, visit secure.utah.gov/rescue/.

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