Interview with Stipe Božić
With peak season behind us, most tourist workers are slowly looking at their numbers, reading arrival and overnight stay statistics, but one service that never has a single day off is the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service. Our national non-profit organisation that is always there to help tourists and locals alike and they have proven their exceptional skills thousands of times. One of their most famous members, Croatian mountaineer, journalist, documentary film-maker, photographer and writer Stipe Bozic, found time for a quick chat and of course, the first thing I wanted to know is the overview of this summer. Were there more or fewer interventions and are the tourists better prepared than before?
As the number of tourists is increasing so is the number of interventions, that is a matter of pure statistics. Profile of our tourists is changing and they are no longer satisfied with the “sun and sea” holiday, they want adventure and there’s no better way to experience adventure than to head out to our beautiful mountains, rivers and caves. I must admit, they are better prepared than before but still, accidents happen. And when they do, we are there to help them, no matter where they are in Croatia and no matter whether they are wearing flip-flops or if they are fully equipped experienced climbers.
Over the last few years there were many educational programmes, some countries such as the Czech Republic even issued pamphlets for their citizens travelling to Croatia to help them prepare in case they were planning on mountaineering in Croatia. Does this help prevent more serious accidents?
We organise countless workshops throughout the year, we’ve published maps, pamphlets and information sheets on many different languages for tourists to let them know that Croatian mountains, rivers and lakes are just as demanding as any and that they should be well prepared and equipped before they embark on any sort of outdoor adventure. Unfortunately, even that cannot prevent accidents like the one we had yesterday on Paklenica which claimed one life. But when accidents do happen, all tourists can be sure that we will answer their call wherever they may find themselves.
Many of these search and rescue operations are very dangerous, demanding in terms of necessary equipment and number of team members and, I must say, quite costly. Every year we hear that anyone that uses your services should in the end pay for it, but nothing is happening in that department. Why?
Well, there’s nothing much we can do about that. We are a civil organisation, all our members are volunteers and we do not have the authority to issue invoices for our services. Then there is also another problem if I may call it that. When we are performing an air rescue, we have to use Croatian Air Force helicopters, and there is simply no way anyone can issue an invoice for their use since they are owned by the military. I have to say that most of the people we’ve rescued in our interventions are insured, both tourist and locals, but those insurance claims can never be closed because of this administrative problem. We try not to think of it at all, we never go out on a rescue thinking whether the person is insured or not. Every call is equally important.
Back to the helicopters. You are currently using the Croatian Air Force ones because they are the only ones available. Are they equipped for your needs and what is happening with the current plan by the Ministry of Health to acquire helicopters for medical emergencies?
Air force teams have done a tremendeous job of jelping us all these years, but to be perfectly honest, their helicopters are just too big and not equipped well enough for medical emergencies. Yes, the Ministry of health is in the process of acquiring helicopters for medical emergencies and we gave them our recommendation regarding which supplier they should use and which models to look at. But that is where the story ends. Now they’re trying to push us out of the story and we don’t know whether we will have the right to use them. I don’t know why this is happening and who will use them in the end, since we are the only ones, along with professional medical teams, that are qualified for air rescue.
You have first hand knowledge of how similar services work abroad since you had a medical problem during one of your alpine expeditions in Austria few years ago. What is their payment procedure?
Their Mountain Rescue Service has the authority to issue invoice, unlike ours. So after the whole extraction process and hospitalization, I received a bill for services rendered which I was more than happy to pay since I owe them my life.
How many team members does the Croatian Mountain Rescue have at the moment?
We have about 800 members across Croatia and that includes doctors, mountaineers, search dog teams, search managers, water rescuer, cavers, all of them finished our extensive training programmes and they are highly qualified for all search and rescue operations in every corner of Croatia. Anyone can reach us by dialing 112, and because of the fantastic coöperation with the 112 dispatch centres, we are the fastest service you can count on 24 hours a day 7 days a week come rain come shine.