Colorado lawmakers debate liability for search and rescue volunteers

Posted at 10:21 AM, Apr 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-01 12:21:46-04

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers are debating a bill aimed at removing a barrier to search and rescue efforts across the state.

House Bill 1309 intends to reduce the liability for helicopter pilots who volunteer to help during emergencies.

It was drafted because of an issue that surfaced, preventing pilots from volunteering.

"[Lawmakers] found a gap and realize that due to some recent insurance law changes that many insurance companies would not support the use of private aircraft to do volunteer rescues,” El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Commander Christopher Gonzalez said.

That caused a financial disincentive.

“They couldn't afford to be insured and help as a volunteer with our organization or any organization across the state,” Gonzalez said. “This bill takes that away, and actually allows them to perform volunteer efforts and support their community.”

Lawmakers from Colorado’s Western Slope and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office leaders supported the bill last week, testifying at the state capitol.

“There are 64 counties in Colorado, and of those, every single county can benefit from this legislation,” Gonzalez said.

El Paso County is the most populated county in the state with one of the busiest search and rescue teams with 2,100 square miles to cover.

Volunteers for El Paso County search and rescue is important to the function of the sheriff’s office.

“El Paso County Sheriff's Office relies greatly on non-governmental partners, including volunteer groups,” Gonzalez said.

There are large incidents where volunteer helicopter pilots have stepped up to support search and rescue missions from the air.

If passed, House Bill 1309 reduces liability when helping during emergency responses and sets standards of responsibility.

“This bill puts minimum requirements as to performance. In addition to that, it does not exclude liability for gross negligence, or actual lack of regard for the health and welfare of the people they're trying to rescue.”

The bill has already passed the full House and a Senate committee.

Next is a full Senate vote.

Colorado lawmakers debate liability for Search and Rescue volunteers