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Laying Down Lives for....... THAT???

dying for a sprained ankle

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 13, 1994.

In New Mexico, this morning, a helicopter went down carrying firefighters between blazes. This shows two things: flying helicopters is dangerous even in daylight and made more so when engaged in violent activity. That, plus accidents happen. It is hardly solace to Colorado, where a Flight for Life helicopter went down killing pilot and nurse. And for what? What was that injury? A heart attack? Lightening strike? What was the life threatening situation?

There is nothing greater than to lay down one’s life for a brother says the Bible, but how does laying down your life for a sprained ankle? That’s what Flight for Life did in a week or life threatening actions for situations that did not demand it. How about laying down your life to save homes from fire whose owners have made zero effort in past years to prepare for such an inevitability? At what point does Flight for Life become Flight for Sunburn? At what point do we tell shake roofed homeowners surrounded by uncleared brush: “Hey, sorry, you made your choice.” Soon, I hope. Too late, I am afraid.

Precisely now, who authorized a night time, mountain top helicopter evacuation for a mere ankle injury? Especially when the injured party was surrounded by rescuers who were quite capable of giving a shot of morphine and carrying him/her down the next day, which, in the event, is what happened. At the very least, the airlift could have waited for daylight. That was an absurd waste of time and material for such a minor injury. The loss of lives makes it a case of wanton and reckless disregard for common sense. Further, suppose the copter had made its error over woods and killed at least one more person plus risking a gas powered fire starting high on the wind swept mountains. What the hell were these people thinking? However painful a broken or sprained ankle is, it is hardly a major horror. It was not worth what happened. These deaths were the result of someone’s decision, a bad one, and reflective of a bad and publicity driven policy.

The fire deaths of 14 young people is far more complicated, and one for which there is likely no blame to be apportioned. They were willing and able and luck - and from what I understand, luck is a big part of these kids lives - and luck ran out. I believe I can say with some surety most of us can conceive of no worse death than those 14 endured, and you can only hope it was short. But those fire shelters give the bodies an uncomfortable resemblance to an Arby’s product from the air. Still, if there was no actual fault on the ground, it suggests to me there is a major fallacy in our forest fire fighting policy.

We are a world of decreasing long term resources and safe to say, fire is no culpable party. It is a natural phenomenon that is essential to healthy vegetation. Our forests are diseased and oppressed by irresponsible zoning that puts ill prepared dwellings near fire traps. This is something that could be reflected by a fair house insurance policy that does not require all to underwrite earthquake or forest fire destruction. When a fire nears a town like Grand Junction, people from all over the nation descend to fight the fire. I am not sure that this is either prudent or the most likely course of success to out the fire. I would suggest that any community, including Boulder, that does not formulate and train for a forest fire reaching the city should receive zero funds from the Federal Government. Such policies would and should include roads providing easy access for fire trucks. Cistern or well pressures sufficient to fight fires. Houses surrounded by a wide swath of open space. Or, your house is not to be saved if the flames come. Because if you don’t take care of an inevitable occurrence, I don’t think a bunch of 25 year olds should be risking lives fighting to save it. What happened to the policy of letting fires burn to distant fire lanes and not fighting for each inch of ground? Apparently, that’s for the forest away from habitation as in Yellowstone years ago.

And, I would love to know if the person whose swollen ankle resulted in two deaths was really qualified to be at the top of that mountain, or does this fall in the category that house drunken college kids sobering up halfway to the summit of Boulder Falls, or the drunken college kids slamming into a tree off the legal slopes in Vail, or the drunken yahoos that descend into our scenic rivers periodically in order to risk the lives of various water rescue units. If lives are in danger, hey, I’ll get a rope and wish you hearty rescuers well from the bottom of the cliff. If they are hurt, let’s make them comfortable and drug away the pain. If they’re drunk or tripping, I’ll leave directions for the coroner on the fridge. And I’ll cherish always the snapshots of your tinderbox whose rebuilding you want my insurance company to pay for. But enough is enough.