|Moral Hazard at Reichenbach Falls|
Two weeks ago, firefighters from Amherst and surrounding communities rescued 22-year-old Scott Merrick, who had fallen 25 feet from the top of Bare Mountain in the Notch, a popular hiking venue in the Mount Holyoke Range State Park. Merrick’s mishap occurred late at night when he ascended the hill alone, following a dispute with his girlfriend at the bottom. The rescue involved 35 firefighters, including members of the department’s technical rescue team, who responded at 11:30 p.m. to the girlfriend’s call. They wrapped things up at 3:30 a.m. Merrick, who sustained minor injuries, left the hill on a stretcher and was transportated by ambulance to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. The cost of his rescue: around $10,000.Charging Merrick for the rescue “is not something I’m actively pursuing at all, Amherst Town Manager John Musante told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Implementing a fee-for-service component—does that have the unintended disincentive for people to call for help when they most need it?” With that said, Musante, who is admired both for his financial acumen and kind-heartedness, may have been primed for his response: he recently spent several months out of circulation after falling in September while walking his dog.
Still, $10,000 is no bag of shells. A year ago, State Representative Stephen Kulik, a liberal democrat from Worthington, Massachusetts, introduced a bill (H.650) that would allow municipal and state governments to recoup emergency response costs attributable to reckless or intentional behavior. Many of the communities that Kulik represents have more vertical topography than Amherst; they also have tighter resources, making costs tougher to absorb.
|A light at the end of the spelunk|
But when there's clear negligence, why should the towns foot the entire bill? Consider the 12-hour rescue in 2010, for example, by Amherst responders of 25-year old Maya Hersh from a cave in the hills of nearby Leverett. Ms. Hersh got stuck in a cave's narrow orifice. To her discredit, she confessed to having been stuck and unstuck there before (the first time without emergency assistance).
Whether Kulik's bill becomes law or not, Scott and Maya would do well to read Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival.
In recent posts, this blog has examined the dangers of other wishful perceptions: viewing interspecies liaisons as central casting in a peaceable kingdom and experiencing what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls amnesiac vacations. Happily, we can all learn from Scott and Maya's picaresque adventures. One question does, however, cry out: Given the lightening learning curves and voracious networking skills of this blog's readers, do we still need a Kulik bill to become a Massachusetts law?