First Responders Leap Into Action to Save People in Danger – False Calls Waste Time and Manpower
Missoula area first responders are there immediately whenever there's a call for help, whether it's a traffic accident, someone lost on a mountain in winter, or someone missing on a local river.
These highly-trained professionals put their lives in danger to provide this service, but, when the call turns out to be false, it can be not only be frustrating, but expensive to the agency.
Early this week, a young woman was tubing with friends down the Clark Fork River and became separated. Her friends contacted 9-1-1, and a search was immediately initiated.
Missoula City Police Detective Sergeant Jim Klawitter said several agencies responded within minutes of the call.
"There was the Missoula Police Department, the University of Montana Police Department, the Missoula Fire Department, Missoula County Search and Rescue was contacted, as was the MedStar helicopter ambulance service to assist in the search," Klawitter said. "At any given time there was between five and ten police officers involved in this. I know they called in the day shift early to help cover while the night guys were out searching. So, I can tell you it cost us a lot of time with lots of officers working multiple hours."
Also called to assist in the search was the MedStar helicopter. In a previous interview with the Life Flight staff, KGVO News learned that every time the specially equipped rescue helicopter lifts off to respond to a emergency, the cost can start at between $5,000 and $10,000.
Missoula City Fire Chief Jason Diehl said the response to a river rescue involves both fire engines and watercraft.
"We usually send three on-duty engine crews and the Battalion Chief," Diehl said. "If the water is high, we'll send out our rescue watercraft, but when it's low like it is now we send out our Cataraft. To do that job correctly, you need upstream lookouts and people downstream as a backup. The situation this week required us to put the Cataraft in the river. Now, keep in mind, these crews are already on duty, and I don't worry too much about their safety because they're very well trained to be on the water."
After several hours of searching up and down the river, it was discovered that the missing woman was safe and sound in her apartment.
Chief Diehl was careful to point out the difference between an unnecessary search and a false call.
" The real costs come in when here's a false call," he said. "It is a concern when we spend a lot of resources and time searching for someone and then if we have an actual emergency come in, the cost to the community is either a delayed response, or we have fewer resources to respond appropriately in come cases."