Volunteers Regularly Saving Lives in Rescue Operations
Published: January 24, 2006 | 3359th good news item since 2003
The rescue of a group of climbers from frigid 9,000 foot Mount Olympus Sunday was a textbook team operation. It was also a tricky, potentially dangerous job, a job done, in large part, by volunteers. So just how much did that rescue cost?
The short answer is easily ten thousand dollars, perhaps more. An exact number is hard to come by because much of the time and services are donated by volunteers and Life Flight.
Over the weekend, it was an impressive mountain rescue, even by the standards of Utah’s expert search and rescue crews. Four injured climbers were plucked at high-altitude from the side of a chilly mountain peak after spending the night there.
Steve Achelis, Commander, Salt Lake Co. Sheriff’s Search & Rescue: “First is helping people. We get, for whatever reason, a lot of fulfillment out of helping people, that is stronger than money. The other thing is, most of us are avid back country people; we like to climb and rappel and ski and hike.”
The Mount Olympus rescue involved roughly 96 hours of work by paid deputies and 580 hours of work by volunteer rescuers like Steve Achelis, the team’s commander, a software entrepreneur. The typical team member volunteers 400 hours a year; for Achelis it’s 1000, often at inconvenient moments.
Steve Achelis: “It’s the page during the birthday party, and what do you do?”
Life Flight too donates its choppers and crew as a community service, something that this weekend would otherwise cost in the range of ten thousand dollars. For pilots, nurses and paramedics it’s a satisfying job.
Bill Butts, Director of Operations, Life Flight: “It’s just high fives all the way around when you’re able to get these kinds of missions done. When you know, you just feel comfortable with the fact if you weren’t able to do that, some serious things would have happened and it probably wouldn’t have come out as good as it did.”
Many ask, why not charge people the cost of rescuing them? But rescuers advise against it.
Steve Achelis: “We would rather people call early, than try to do a self-rescue, to wait until the night, until someone is critically injured or dying before we get the notification, not only for their well being, but for the rescuers’ safety.”
Just how much money does Salt Lake County alone save through its volunteer Search and Rescue team? It must be millions of dollars over time. Typically, Salt Lake County’s search and rescue team does at least 50 rescues a year. In 2002 there were 73. That year, Life Flight’s rescue costs along totaled more that 200-thousand dollars, again all donated.