Breaking Down the Cost of Search and Rescues

Lynchburg, VA - Members of Lynchburg's Swift Water Rescue Team estimate they've been involved in four times the number of rescues than a typical year.

No matter how senseless the situation, taxpayers are paying for the rescues.

In the Western U.S., some states have billed stranded hikers and canoeists for the cost.

As one Virginia public safety official said, however, "You can't legislate common sense."

Lynchburg firefighters say the vast majority of rescues involve regular people getting caught in changing conditions.

Earl Copes says that was the case earlier this month at the Snowden Dam.

"There were six people on the wrong side of the river that needed to make it back to the opposite side and we were able to assist," Copes added.

The fire chief says swift water rescues don't cost taxpayers very much. The staff is on duty 24 hours a day and the equipment's already on hand. He says billing based on negligence could be a risky business.

"If somebody was getting in trouble but they were reluctant to call because they didn't want to be charged for it, they may not call before it's too late," Chief Brad Ferguson explained.

There are some exceptions though. In HAZMAT situations, if a truck driver is negligent, the fire department will often charge for the cost of clean-up.

Virginia State Police's going rate for a false report involving one of its helicopters: a mere $775 an hour.

Captain Jody Mayberry is in charge of Lynchburg's Swift Water Rescue Team.

"Whether it was a good judgement call or not, they were still in an emergency situation and they needed our help. And when a person needs our help, we're gonna be there to help them," Mayberry added.