County commissioners frustrated with men rescued from Fish Creek Canyon
Steamboat Springs — Routt County commissioners expressed their frustration Monday with two Minnesota men who had to be rescued for a second time from Fish Creek Canyon on Jan. 12 by Search and Rescue volunteers, leading to one rescuer suffering multiple bone fractures after he was swept up in an avalanche in the steep canyon.
“I’m incensed that those guys had to be rescued twice,” Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said Monday. “They had no additional outdoor equipment with them, food, water, stove. Do we have a civil complaint against them? I could live with the second call if they had some equipment. I’m damn mad.”
Her remarks were made after other county officials confirmed to the commissioners that the county’s workers’ compensation will cover the medical bills for rescuer Jay Bowman, who was fortunate to ride out the avalanche without being buried but unfortunate to collide with aspen trees. Those collisions lead to injuries that required 13 screws to stabilize his upper arm, several broken bones in his leg and a laceration to his head.
Adding to the frustration was that the same men — a skier and a snowboarder — had previously called for assistance from Search and Rescue about four years ago in roughly the same location. This time around, they weren’t carrying any of the strongly recommended safety equipment for backcountry skiers — no avalanche beacon, no additional clothing, no avalanche shovel, no means of navigating.
Routt County Attorney Erick Knaus told the commissioners Monday he has reached out to the District Attorney’s Office to have a discussion about the matter.
“The easiest criminal action (to pursue) might be restitution, but I don’t even know if they’re looking at this case for prosecution,” Knaus said.
County Manager Tom Sullivan said because Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers carry out rescue missions under the jurisdiction of the Routt County sheriff, they are eligible for workers’ compensation through the county, which covers medical expenses and 66 percent of lost wages.
In Bowman’s case, lost wages won’t be an issue. He confirmed this week that in addition to all the hours he invests in Search and Rescue, he serves on the boards of directors of four community organizations, but he is not employed.
Sullivan said Routt County arranges for its workers’ comp, along with a half dozen counties that are home to large ski areas, through the nonprofit County Technical Services Inc. Typically, any claims elevate the cost of coverage.
Assistant County Attorney Lynaia South reminded the Board of Commissioners that the Colorado Search and Rescue Board, which advises county sheriffs across the state, has a policy of not charging victims for backcountry rescues. However, in the case of rescued adventurers who possess a hunting, fishing or hiking license, snowmobile/ATV/boat registrations or the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue card, a portion of the associated fees help to defer the cost of searches and rescues.
The first line item in the Search and Rescue board’s policy on charging for rescues reads: “At no time, and in no manner, should an individual member of a volunteer search and rescue organization benefit monetarily from rendering emergency service to the subject of a search, rescue or recovery effort.”
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The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a winter storm warning for much of the West Slope ahead of a major weather system expected in the area starting Thursday.