Colorado Lawmakers Discuss Liability for Search and Rescue Volunteers

Colorado Lawmakers (Credits: Colorado Public Radio)

Colorado lawmakers are currently discussing House Bill 1309, which aims to address a barrier hindering search and rescue operations throughout the state. The bill seeks to alleviate the liability burden on helicopter pilots who volunteer during emergencies, thereby encouraging their participation in such efforts.

The need for this legislation arose due to recent changes in insurance laws, which created obstacles for pilots willing to volunteer for search and rescue missions.

These changes led to a situation where many insurance companies were reluctant to cover private aircraft used for volunteer rescues, creating financial disincentives for pilots to participate.

Search and Rescue Volunteers (Credits: Cowboy State Daily)

El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Commander Christopher Gonzalez explained that this bill fills a crucial gap in support for volunteer pilots, allowing them to contribute to emergency response efforts without facing insurance-related hurdles.

During hearings at the state capitol, lawmakers from various parts of Colorado, along with leaders from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, voiced their support for the bill.

Gonzalez emphasized that all 64 Colorado counties benefit from this legislation. El Paso County, being the most populous county in the state and home to one of the busiest search and rescue teams, particularly stands to gain from the increased participation of volunteer pilots.

Backcountry Search & Rescue (Credits: Colorado Department of Natural Resources)

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office relies heavily on non-governmental partners, including volunteer groups, to conduct search and rescue operations effectively. Volunteer helicopter pilots have played a significant role in supporting these missions, especially during large-scale incidents.

If passed, House Bill 1309 will mitigate liability concerns for volunteer pilots involved in emergency responses while establishing responsibility standards. The bill sets minimum performance requirements and does not absolve liability for gross negligence or disregard for the well-being of those rescued.

Having already cleared the full House and a Senate committee, the bill is moving forward with bipartisan support, highlighting its importance in facilitating effective search and rescue efforts across Colorado.

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