How to help fund Colorado’s free search and rescue services

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DENVER (KDVR) — Should search and rescue missions be free?

They are in Colorado, but the debate carries on here and around the U.S. about whether to charge people who need help in the wilderness.

The answer from some rescuers with the Alpine Rescue Team is a flat-out no. They say their reason falls in line with the work they do.

“If you are charging someone, that delays their call to 911 when they need help,” Dawn Wilson, with Alpine Rescue Team, said.

The topic isn’t new to people like Wilson and others in the search and rescue community here in Colorado. It comes up so often that folks like Wilson always have an answer ready for why they don’t feel people should be charged for being rescued.

“We know what we’re getting into. We know we’re going to search for someone or help search for someone no matter what choice they made,” Wilson said.

Rescue groups say charging for their services could lead people to avoid calling for help — or to at least delay the decision. If someone puts off calling for help until night falls, for example, that delayed call could put both the person and rescue crews in worse danger.

Part of the issue is providing funding for search and rescue crews, with some arguing that the rescued party should be held responsible.

But that’s not so much of an issue — at least in Colorado.

“Colorado does a really good job of helping, as they can, with different grants” and other license fees that help fund rescue operations, Wilson said.

“We don’t want people to be charged when their life is in danger or they feel like their life is in danger,” Wilson said.

Wilson didn’t want to delve too deep into the politics of fees for search and rescue services but suffice to say, it’s a chance for voters to learn more about search and rescue.

“We want to educate of why we do what we do and tell stories of lives that we’ve saved because of people calling earlier,” Wilson said.

Latest data from the Search and Rescue Association reports 2,875 search and rescue incidents in the state in one year.

How to help fund Colorado rescue operations

Search and rescue crews are volunteer-driven in Colorado.

Contributions to the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue fund reimburse the volunteer teams for their work and provide money to help them buy related equipment, according to the state.

People can contribute by buying a CORSAR card. It costs just $3 for one year or $12 for five years.

In the event of a rescue, you don’t need a CORSAR card to get help. But having a CORSAR card ensures that the responding rescue team can get reimbursed immediately instead of at the end of the year.

Money for the CORSAR fund is also generated through an automatic surcharge on hunting and fishing licenses, boat and snowmobile registrations and off-highway vehicle registrations.

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