I have something to say to all those people who take dumb risks
and then expect the rest of us to pick up the tab: Pay for your own stupid
Almost every day rescuers save someone somewhere in America.
Sometimes rescuers put their own lives on the line. When
climbers on Mt. Hood fell into a crevasse, a military helicopter flew to the
rescue. The copter crashed, and the pilot had to be rescued.
Often the rescued are in trouble simply because they took
"I fell down the hill. I really don't know what happened, but
luckily, I got stopped by a tree before I fell off," one inebriated-looking
man said on my special "You Can't Even Talk About It.
Some hike into treacherous weather with no warm clothing. Some
go biking on the edge of a mountain. The
Internet is crammed with examples of risky behavior.
Even mundane sports are treacherous if people are careless.
Every winter people go ice fishing on Lake Erie. Some use airboats, but many
go out on foot or on four-wheelers. That's risky because the wind can open
cracks in the ice. This winter when that happened, people called 911, and
with great expense, 21 government agencies responded.
Sheriff Bob Bratton of Ottawa County, Mich., was angry that
people ignored the weather and then needed to be saved. "There's no section
in the law about stupidity because they could all be arrested today for
that," he said.
But fisherman Randy Hayes defended taking his four-wheeler onto
the ice. "You take a chance every time you go out there," he said.
But on this day there was a strong off-shore wind, I reminded
"There's wind. There's cracks. It's just something you deal
"You're tying up emergency services," Sheriff Bratton said. "The
helicopter that will be coming over from the Coast Guard? Four thousand
dollars an hour."
The rescue cost more than $250,000.
The sheriff thinks and I agree that the fishermen should
pay for their rescue. But Rick Ferguson, who owns a bait shop in the
vicinity, told me, "We already pay that in the tax dollars that we pay."
Fisherman Joe Garverick, who was not among those who needed
rescuing, agreed. "I'm not for paying if you get rescued in the woods. This
is America, and I believe we all jump up. We help each other."
One rescued fishermen, Randy Hayes, said, "If you start charging
people, people won't call when they truly do need help."
But that's bunk. New Hampshire charges reckless people who need
help, and they still call 911 there.
Sparsely populated Grand County, Utah, which spent $5,000 to
pull a jeep out of a crack in a canyon, started charging for rescues to
protect its taxpayers. It has a hundred rescues a year because tourists come
to participate in the extreme sports.
"I'm looking at the local taxpayer," says Sheriff Jim Nyland.
"When people go out and do ridiculous things, I think they ought be held
He went after John Rushenberg, who needed rescuing while hiking
a canyon in flip-flops. He was billed $2,000, but still has not paid.
"I don't want to pay," he told "20/20."
And get this: It wasn't Rushenberg's first time. A few years
before, he and his friends had to be helped off a mountain. He laughed about
it and said he hoped people watching my television special would chip in to
pay his fine.
Give me a break. Why should other people chip in to pay for
people who get themselves into trouble and need rescuing? They should take
responsibility for the costs they impose on others.
As Herbert Spencer wisely said, "The ultimate result of
shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools."
If we start by billing drunken rock climbers who need rescuing,
maybe we can convince Congress and the president to stop bailing out failed
banks, insurance companies and automakers.
I won't hold my breath.