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Water rescues: Who should pay for them? | News

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Water rescues: Who should pay for them?
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Since Saturday, Kent County has responded to six water rescues as people continue to ignore the warnings.

Authorities say only one of those rescues was legitimate. The other rescues, authorities say, could have been avoided.  In the end, taxpayers cover the cost of the rescues, but should we have to?

According to Kent County Emergency Management Director Jack Stewart, people continue to kayak, raft, and canoe on the swollen Grand River and they're getting caught in the strong current, then find themselves in harm's way.

That's the last thing law enforcement and emergency personnel need when dealing with a natural disaster.

"We'd appreciate it if people would not put themselves in peril," added Stewart. "The [Grand] river is dangerous and the water is moving so fast."

Last Saturday, a man on a raft had to be rescued along the river in Plainfield Township.

Lowell Police Chief Barry Getzen tells WZZM that responders have had several rescues in the past few days, including a kayaker who needed help on Saturday.

On Monday in Walker, a retired Grand Rapids couple found themselves clinging to tree branches after their canoe flipped and floated away in the fast-moving current.

"The [Kent County] sheriff's department doesn't charge for rescues and I don't know if the individual fire departments were involved charge," said Stewart.

That means taxpayers wind up paying for all of the water rescues, including the ones that could have been avoided had people chosen common sense instead of adventure.

13 On Your Side contacted State Representative Brandon Dillon to get his thoughts on who should pay. He says if there isn't a law currently in place, to force people to pay for preventable water rescues, there should be.

"Especially at a time when you have law enforcement officials, emergency officials all trying to work together to avoid a disaster or deal with an emergency situation," said Dillon. "Anybody who goes out and recklessly does things that forces those resources to be diverted away from protecting the general public, I think, should be held accountable."

Dillon added that he will be more than willing to look at getting some sort of legislation drafted and introduced.

"We have to find a way to recoup those expenses, and also then deter anybody in the future from engaging in similar activities, added Dillon. "I think I will find broad support and there will be a lot of people willing to work on a piece of legislation and I would be happy to start dealing with that immediately.

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