Who should pay for cliff rescues?

by on October 20, 2009 · 10 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health, Labor, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Cliffs rescue 02-sm

Rescue off of Sunset Cliffs, Oct. 14, 2009. All photos by Jim Grant.

SUNSET CLIFFS, CA.  About a week ago, on October 14th, a young man had to be rescued off of the cliffs. The cliffs are Sunset Cliffs, south of OB proper.

The rescue of somebody, whether they are plucked from the ocean, rappelled from the cliffs, carried out of the danger zones is not a new occurrence for these beautiful but dangerous cliffs.  Over the years, many people have had to be rescued from either the ocean below or the cliffs themselves.

The guy who got stuck had been surfing and tried to come ashore at high tide and couldn’t make it up the cliffs.  So, the Lifeguards were called. Emergency responders were dialed up and their assistance was urgently requested.

It is reported to us by a witness that four (4) police cars showed up.  So did an ambulance.  Plus three (3) lifeguards arrived.  And to top it off, a fire truck made a show.

Cops, para-medics, lifeguards and firefighters showed up to rescue one guy.

This particular guy’s dilemma – we don’t know his name or how exactly he came to be stuck between a rock and a hard place – raises some interesting questions:

Who pays for cliff rescues?

The answer is obvious. We do, the people, the tax payers, our government.

Yet, in this time of the Great Recession, as government services and personnel are being cut back – this question may take on a new meaning.

Due to the number of first responders that showed up – this guy cost us quite a bundle – in terms of personnel time and resources. These are labor costs and equipment expenditures.

Cliffs rescue01-smWill this guy – or his parents (we don’t know his age) – be billed for any of it?  Will the young man be sanctioned at all for making a bad and risky – and ultimately costly – decision?

He was not arrested. And luckily for him – and us – he was not hospitalized.

Should this guy be charged for all that he forced on the rest of us in terms of having to spend our decreasing funds on him?

Or, is this part of the social contract that our government and its personnel have with the public, the people, us- the “we” in “We the People”?  Do we have a right to be rescued if it is in the power of governmental services?  Do  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness allow us to be rescued off the cliffs without sanction? What do you think?

There weren’t even lifeguards at OB beaches until one tragic day many moons ago – during World War I – when over a dozen military personnel perished by drowning in one incident as they attempted to walk from South Mission Beach to Ocean Beach.

Lifeguards at the beaches make many rescues every day during the hot months. People rescued then are not billed.  It is a service they we the people have agreed to provide to our fellow citizens.  And rightly so.

But are cliff rescues different? They cost a whole helluva lot more.  Particularly this one – as it drew not just a singular lifeguard but over a dozen of public servants just trying to do their job.  If they have one.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

fstu October 20, 2009 at 8:26 pm

great question We obviously pay the billwhich is fine as far as I am concerned but I have to task why so many responders How bout a couple of life guards a rope and a basket if the need for one is deteremined
I have never been able to figure out why some many show up for someting like that I guess there are a lot of bored 1st responders. Seems a little over kill me. Four police cars WTF no need at all unless the poor surfer was in a no surf zone or trying to recover a lost stash. The fire truck, maybe. The life guards, yeah a few of them were needed. The ambulance was the need determined first?


bodysurferbob October 20, 2009 at 9:05 pm

maybe the lifeguards needed training. nothing like a little hands on to master those skills.


Editor October 20, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Many thanks, again, to Jim Grant – the on-da-spot-guy-with-da-camera. He is fast becoming his own news service.


jim grant October 21, 2009 at 7:52 am

First responders espically cliff rescue are at the cliffs praticing often. What people dont realize is even praticing they risk their own lives. They also never know what they are coming up aganist. So they show up in force. However some are released when the event is under control. I guess if it were me or my family I would be glad to see extra hands on board.
This event was different this guy was laughing and haming it up for the news 8 heli…he was flipping off his friends who were on top the cliff talking with first responders. They thought of this as a big ass joke.
When you do some illegal or stupid why shoud society assume the cost?


Mary October 22, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Why was this guy trying to come up to shore under the cliffs anyway? Why didn’t he paddle on over to Garbage or something? What a bonehead.

However, there are no laws against stupidity.


PSD October 22, 2009 at 10:51 pm

If I was this kid my friends would’ve been hucking rocks at me and calling me a pansy for being stuck, not calling emergency services. And if this kid had been one of my friends I’d have been hucking rocks at him and calling him Gomer Pyle. We’d have eventually found a way to get him unstuck on our own (getting a rope out of somebody’s car or a hardware store nearby sounds like a painfully obvious solution given the pictures in this article), then went home and laughed over a few bowls about it.


Jason October 22, 2009 at 11:15 pm

what if this was a 5 year old girl that had been swept away by a wave? where do we draw the line on what a life is worth and how do we decide who should pick up the tab? granted, a surfer is out there voluntarily, but things happen that we can’t predict. who picks up the tab for costs incurred by a-hole drivers that create delays on our freeways? who picks up the tab for the forgetful that run out of gas and create traffic jams? who picks up the tab for those that start freeway brush fires cuz they their out their cig and create traffic jams ? who pick up the tab for slobs that throw out their mickey d’s trash on the interstate? who picks up the tab for the guy dragging his catalytic converter down the freeway starting fires all the while? the list goes on and on. let the guys do their jobs, do what they get paid for. if they weren’t out doing their job, they’d be sitting around getting fat eating doughnuts – mostly figuratively speaking. don’t they all get paid to save people? what do we pay them for?


j christensen October 28, 2009 at 11:29 am

Pay for – the resuce? A progressive blog like the Rag having this discussion tells me we’ve lost sight of why we did it in the first place. Once we were generous and saw advantage by cooperating. We pooled our resources to gain benefits we as individuals could never have. Not anymore. Now it’s who pays? Harsh, certainly, but we no longer want to pool our resources, so let’s seriously consider an alternative. No rescue! Not my responsibility. Each for themselves. There was a time before lifeguards, before firefighters or EMT’s. We could have only commercial fee based ‘Rescue Wagons”. RW’s could cruise the streets looking for likely customers. 911 would be changed, eliminated really because, after all, that’s subsidized by the public. Now you can call the Rescue Wagon of your choice. Open competition on rescues. Supply and demand. No money? Life’s a bitch, let em drown. Witnessing a few people (or kids) dying should provide a lot of incentive to those future customers. Really, why pretend any longer. Try no rescue.


Frank Gormlie October 28, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Jc – really surprised by your response. You – as a progressive – of all people are always doing a balancing act when it comes to government monies. you did it during the fires by arguing that mandatory evacuations were a waste of time and money. We raised the issue because it needs to be raised. And by raising it, we encourage a discussion of the issue, which is what is happening. So, get off your high horse and get your hands dirty.


Noah October 28, 2009 at 4:33 pm

How about the money spent on the regular drunk that gets transported to ER by medics? One of my buddies is a PM and he took me on a ride-along with him. We came to OB on a 911 call regarding a male down and not moving. It turned out to be the same guy that went to ER 26 times in the past 3 months…yes 26 times…PM’s keep track of that. The guy had no emergency but he was pretty sh…faced after a rough night of drinking. I think a regular ambulance ride to the Hospital is about $4,ooo so the math is kind of scary. And on top of that you have to add the ER fees. I am a big fan of some type of socialized healthcare but I was amazed by the $$$ spent.


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