Reimbursement not possible for $2,000 cost of rescuing hiker at Quabbin Reservoir

Last modified: Wednesday, March 18, 2015

PELHAM — The rescue of a hiker at the Quabbin Reservoir Monday night will cost the Town of Amherst more than $2,000 for its involvement in the incident.

Because state legislation filed three years ago that would allow communities to recover costs associated with such rescues has never gotten out of committee, there is no way for the town to bill the three hikers who created the situation.

Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said Tuesday that responding to such an incident, in which three men were hiking at the Quabbin and one was unable to get out after suffering chest pains and weakness, is frustrating because it was preventable.

“This was a rescue of three folks who didn’t think, who didn’t plan and who should have known better,” Nelson said.

He described the trio as “woefully unprepared,” wearing no heavy jackets and walking in snowdrifts that reached their knees. They had started their journey in mid-afternoon, but were unable to make it out before nightfall.

“You’ve got to know what your limitations are,” Nelson said. “These people chose to do this, and they made a bad choice.”

State Police Trooper Matthew Guarino said Tuesday that no charges or fines are expected to be levied against the men.

Even though the gates to the Quabbin are locked at dusk, and the site is off limits to the public at night, Guarino said the action of the men was not intentional.

“They went in before 2 p.m. with the full intent to get out by dark,” Guarino said.

He identified the men as Thomas C. Wills, 39, of Belchertown, Clyde H. Watson, 42, of Northampton, and Job Morgan, 28, of Norwich, Connecticut.

The state legislation, originally filed by Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, in 2012 was called “An Act Relative to the Recovery of Emergency Response Costs.” The bill was refiled this year and only last week was referred to the Committee on Pubic Safety and Homeland Security.

If approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the law would allow a local or state agency to be reimbursed for the wages, equipment costs and fuel expenses associated with a rescue.

The text of the bill reads, in part: “Whenever a government entity engages in a search and rescue operation for the purpose of searching for or rescuing a person, and incurs search and rescue expenses therein, the government entity may seek reimbursement from the person for whom the search and rescue operation was conducted or a person who knowingly provided false information that led to a search and rescue operation.”

Nelson said the rescue involved 13 permanent firefighters and six members of the call force, at a cost of $2,000 to $2,200. At the scene, the equipment included a rescue truck, an ambulance, snowmobile and sled and a pickup truck. One man was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital for treatment of non life-threatening injuries, Nelson said.

Nelson said he was forced to call in additional members of the permanent and call force to work so that the department would be ready in case any other medical or fire emergencies occurred in Amherst or surrounding towns.

The rescue went well, Nelson said. “Our job, first and foremost, is getting people out of harm’s way,” Nelson said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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