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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rich Landers: Rescuers will gladly save family third time if needed

Paramedics work to get Yvonne Haas off Bridger Ridge. (Photos courtesy of Kayla Haas)

A rescue call from the Great Outdoors will prompt some people to ask, “How can we help?” or at least “How are you doing?”

Others focus on, “How much will it cost taxpayers?”

It’s no surprise that critics chimed in by phone, email and social media after reading the S-R’s story on Wednesday about a Spokane hiker being rescued following a freak accident high in the mountains near Bozeman, Montana.

While trekking Bridger Ridge with her husband and daughter, Yvonne Haas suffered a serious wound to her leg from rockfall dislodged from above by a mountain goat. The family had what they needed to stabilize her condition before responders arrived and called in a helicopter to pluck her off the 8,000-foot ridge and fly her to medical care.

The story is even more unusual because the Haas family had called for a rescue from the same remote ridge route near Bridger Bowl ski area last year after a sudden storm left them stranded with Yvonne suffering hypothermia.

Some of the story comments received here at the S-R Outdoors Department were blatantly mean, suggesting the family shouldn’t be allowed to go outdoors if they’re going to require emergency assistance.

Excuse me, but that sets off the alarm on my BS meter.

Society would save a lot more money by banishing people from bars, motorcycles and fireworks stands, county fair food stalls, couches and Cheetos bags.

Outdoor recreation is among the least costly to society of the many lifestyle choices people make.

And to answer the critics’ question: Neither of the Haas family rescues cost you a dime.

That is unless you live in Gallatin County, Montana, or you’re one of the many people who has offered a donation to Gallatin County Search and Rescue. And in either of those cases, the cost was voluntary.

“Los Angeles has beaches and provides life guards; we have mountains and Search and Rescue (SAR),” said Cpt. Jason Jarrett of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department in Bozeman.

Because they are frequent travelers, Yvonne and Mark Haas have insurance that covers rescues. But they didn’t need it in Gallatin County.

“We don’t charge for search and rescue,” Jarrett said. “Very, very few places charge for search and rescue.

“In 1982, the good citizens of Gallatin County voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves and support SAR. The program also gets money from use fees such as ATV licenses and boat licenses… and people donate to us.”

The county includes world-class recreation areas including the Bridger Range and Jarrett supervises SAR posts at Big Sky and West Yellowstone.

“We have a lot of great country that attracts a lot of outdoor recreation,” he said.

The county handled 134 SAR calls in 2016. “Some of the calls we get are handled by on-duty deputies at virtually no extra cost while the occasional one might range to $20,000,” he said.

“It averages to about $400 a call. That’s it. That’s the story. It’s all volunteer except for the deputies.”

Critics might find this strange, but some outdoors enthusiasts are generous with their skills when it comes to saving a life.

“This is a very outdoor recreation-oriented community,” Jarrett said from his office in Bozeman. “That community and the area draws world-class outdoor athletes from climbers to divers, not to mention our group of Ham radio operators who are world-class in their field and world-champion Morse Code senders. We have climbers listed among the top 10 in the world.

“And they’re all willing to volunteer to support that outdoor recreation lifestyle.”

In the 32 years Jarrett has been involved with SAR, he said there have been a few other people who have been repeat rescuees. “Yes, we’ve come to know the Haas family, and they are very nice people,” Jarrett said.

“After their rescue last year, (Mark Haas) wrote an eloquent piece about the experience for a Washington State Troopers publication. It moved us.”

In that piece, Haas wrote about the series of events spawned by a sudden intense thunderstorm that led to three rescues that night, including theirs.

He also praised the two SAR volunteers who hiked up with dry clothing, built a fire and kept them alive until the helicopter could fly the next morning.

“We apologized repeatedly for calling them, but they smiled and said they were exactly where they wanted to be,” Haas wrote. “Taylor pointed out shooting stars and commented on the beauty of this place as Jeff told us he had to be rescued one time on an Alaskan adventure so not to be embarrassed. These gentlemen will always be heroes in our minds.”

“The Haas family and about 98 percent of our callers are people out doing what we want people to do,” Jarrett said.

“They’re healthy and physically active outside instead of being in their basements eating Twinkies and playing video games.

“That percentage of people who need SAR assistance are good people who just happen to have a bad day.

“When you’re in the backcountry and you fracture an ankle or blow out a knee you can’t just hobble to a car and drive to the urgent care. The vast majority of our rescuees are good people doing what we value in this community, they just had a bad run-in with nature.”

About 150 names are on the Gallatin County SAR list under 11 specialized categories such as alpine, dogs, radio, dive, horse, snowmobile and Civil Air Patrol.

“I’m the luckiest SAR commander on the planet,” Jarrett said.

Technology is making outdoor recreationists more self-sufficient and helping reduce the number of SAR calls. “People don’t get lost like they used to because they have hand radios, GPS that tracks them and their partners and cell phones so they can get up to a ridge and communicate.”

If Spokane critics of the Haas family rescue are still grumbling, perhaps this will calm them down – Yvonne Haas posted on Facebook, assuring her well-wishers that she was recovering from her leg injury and that the next Haas family adventure will be… in Disney World.

But even in the Magic Kingdom, there’s a response team on call to respond to emergencies from heart attacks to tumbles off the Matterhorn bobsled ride.

The cost is built into the price we pay for a thrill.