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Insurance woes threaten existence of rescue groups

DENVER ” Soaring insurance rates might force two of the state’s independent volunteer search and rescue teams to restrict their activities while a third may have to fold.

Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, the oldest team in the state, and Alpine Rescue Team, which covers Clear Creek and Jefferson counties, might have to give up their independence and work under the supervision of a county sheriff. That could limit where they work.

Arapahoe Rescue Patrol, the only certified team in the state staffed and run exclusively by high school-age teenagers, is in danger of disbanding.



About 200 volunteers could be affected.

The problem is that workers’ compensation rates for emergency-response volunteers have tripled in the past three years in Colorado.

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In 2002, the groups paid $116 per volunteer to Pinnacol Assurance, which covers most of the state’s volunteer search and rescue teams, fire, police and ambulance organizations. The per-volunteer cost is now $420.

Authorities worry that critical response time will be lost, particularly along the Front Range, if the three groups’ scope are limited or they go out of business.

“It would be like we went back in time to 20 or 30 years ago, when we’d end up calling for additional help from other counties as soon as we got in the field because we knew it would be the next day before they could respond,” said George Janson, a manager for Larimer County Search and Rescue who helps coordinate multiple-agency response throughout the state.

Pinnacol says the rescue groups’ rates are higher because the nature of their makes them risky clients.

“The costs of those injuries are such that if we were trying to break even and not make a profit, we’d be having to charge even (more),” said Gary Pon, president and chief executive of Pinnacol.

Rescue teams said Pinnacol should have given them more warning so they could find other revenue.

Ann Keane, business manager for Rocky Mountain Rescue, said the team hasn’t been able to budget for the increases and is using reserves to cover the cost.

Most of the 50 volunteer search and rescue teams across the state work under a sheriff’s department, which can provide funding and insurance under the county’s policy.

The Rocky Mountain and Alpine teams, however, fear they would lose their ability to provide support anywhere in the state if they relinquish their independence.

Rocky Mountain Rescue, however, is negotiating to move under Boulder County’s jurisdiction.

Keane said a decision could be made within a month.


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