By Senator Patty Ritchie
Imagine being lost in the wilderness with no idea where you are, no cell phone service and no way to call for help.
It’s a scary situation that many New Yorkers find themselves in. In fact, more than 300 visitors to the Adirondack Park are lost or injured while wandering in its thick forests every year; and there are currently nine outstanding missing persons cases dating back to 1971.
When these things happen, we call on volunteer search and rescue groups to help locate missing hikers, hunters and others who lose their way in the Adirondacks and other vast wilderness areas of Upstate New York.
But, until now, the more than 26 volunteer search and rescue groups across New York weren’t officially being recognized by the state.
Now, a bill I sponsored, which was recently signed into law by Governor Cuomo, gives that official state recognition to volunteer search and rescue groups.
The signing of the legislation caps a 30-year effort by State Forest Rangers, volunteer groups and local communities to establish standards for training and safety of volunteers, which will help lead to more successful rescue operations.
Thanks to this law, local governments will have the option to use the groups in rescue operations. It also directs the state Department of Environmental Conservation to design specific training that will lead to official credentialing of search and rescue volunteers. This training will make search and rescue groups better prepared for the tough situations they face and will help ensure more successful search outcomes.
Lastly, the new law offers protection for local communities using search and rescue groups from certain lawsuits and damages that could arise during rescue operations.
From camping and mountain climbing, to boating and fishing, the recreational opportunities New York offers are without number. While there is a lot of fun to be had, there are often risks that come along with these activities.
Volunteer search and rescue groups are willing to face everything from rough terrain to bad weather in order to keep us safe, and this legislation provides a bit of extra insurance that someone will be looking out for us should we lose our way.