After another rescue on an illegal hike, some call for rule-breakers to pay up

The Honolulu Fire Department said they rescued an injured hiker on the Stairway to Heaven trail Monday afternoon.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 10:43 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2023 at 5:07 AM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some lawmakers and first responders are throwing their support behind a measure that would charge some people for expensive search and rescue operations.

The bill would charge individuals who need rescued after ignoring warning signs, leaving a trail for prohibited area who ignores warning signs, leave a trail to get to a prohibited area, or go on an illegal hike.

The head of the firefighters’ union says it’s time to buck tradition and consider charging people for air rescues like one on Monday afternoon at the Haiku Stairs, which is off-limits. “I people aren’t gonna learn, then we gotta try and do something else,” said Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

The Honolulu Fire Department said it costs about $2,500 per hour to fly its helicopter, and the typical airlift takes two hours. But those rescues add up.

Despite the union’s openness to start charging people, the fire department opposes the bill to allow agencies to seek reimbursement — as does the Honolulu Police Department.

“I would have to calculate overtime costs, helicopter costs, gas, maintenance,” said HPD Capt. Shellie Paiva. “It’s just a bunch of things that we’re not only able to calculate, but we would also be unable to accept payment for.”

Oahu Search and Rescue, a volunteer organization, is also against the bill.

The president of OSAR, Ethan Pearson-Pomerantz, said it could backfire.

“It can cause them maybe not to call for help when they really need it initially, which can lead to much worse outcomes as things deteriorate,” said Pearson-Pomerantz. “And that’s bad for them and also can be hazardous for the rescuers.”

“My response to that is that goes against everything that is common sense,” said State Sen. Glenn Wakai, chair of the public safety committee.

“If you are in dire need, if you’re having a heart attack, or if you have a broken leg and you just cannot get back on the trail, I don’t think anyone is going to second guess, well, you know, do I need to make that call or not, people are going to make the call.”

Wakai said Hawaii should join six other states to try to recoup search and rescue costs.

The firefighters’ union says it’s time to stop giving those people a free pass.

“Our firefighters will find a way, no matter how dangerous it is to try and help,” said Lee. “And like I said, that is the fear, but at the same time, you know, somehow we have to modify this behavior of people disregarding the law.”