NewsCovering Colorado


Colorado lawmakers debate liability for Search and Rescue volunteers

Posted at 7:05 PM, Mar 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-01 11:14:36-04

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

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

The bill originated with law makers from Colorado’s western slope and leaders with El Paso County Sheriff’s Office are supporting the bill with testimony at the capitol.

“There are 64 counties in Colorado, and of those, every single county can benefit from this legislation,” said Commander Christopher Gonzalez with El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

Search and Rescue volunteers across the state operate as a division of their county Sheriff’s Office.

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

The volunteer element of 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,” said Gonzalez.

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

House Bill 1309 was drafted because of an issue that surfaced preventing pilots from volunteering.

Gonzalez said 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.”

It has 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,” said Gonzalez, “This bill takes that away, and actually allows them to perform volunteer efforts and support their community.”

If passed, the bill reduces liability when helping during emergency responses.

It also 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 in the House and out of a Senate committee.

Next is a full Senate vote.


News Tips
What should KOAA5 cover? Is there a story, topic, or issue we should revisit? Have a story you believe should make the light of day? Let our newsroom know with the contact form below.

Watch KOAA News5 on your time, anytime with our free streaming app available for your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Android TV. Just search KOAA News5, download and start watching.