John Harrigan: When accidents happen, we need to know how

October 19. 2013 9:54PM

A COUPLE OF weeks ago, I wrote that hunting accidents are rare given the number of participants, and that an accident involving a non-hunter is rarer still. I stand by that. In the interim, we have had several hunting accidents; all, as far as I know, involving other hunters.

The statistics show that among outdoor pursuits (hiking, canoeing, even golf), hunting is at the near-bottom of the risk list. And far and away, the accidents involve hunters themselves or other hunters, but rarely the public. I am more at risk coming down the stairs to the living room.

But hunting accidents get so much publicity precisely because they are so uncommon. They are in the category of airplane crashes. When an airplane crash occurs, it gets tremendous media attention. Lost in the public's mind for the moment is the extraordinary number of successful takeoffs and landings each day.

When a hunting accident occurs, the news spreads like wildfire around hunting camps. First is the horror of it - an accident we all dread. Then there is the how and why of it. How could such a thing happen? Think of the FAA and the black box.

Fish and Game has a tradition of going to great lengths to explain to the hunting and non-hunting public just what happened. This is, or used to be, a straightforward deal. Fish and Game decided whether to press charges, but in the end the story came out. Every calamity served as a learning tool.

Now, in a litigious society, I see Fish and Game beginning to clam up. Understandably, there are privacy concerns and court cases to comprehend. We all know this. The account of a tragedy in these more circumspect times cannot be told in detail right after it happens. But in the end, a straightforward account should be put into the public domain.

I see this tradition beginning to erode. All who love and recreate in the great outdoors should not let this live-and-learn tradition die. Each accident should serve as a training tool for all. To hell with it, tell the story.

Climbers and hikers benefit from the Appalachian Mountain Club's hiking and climbing accident synopses, and so should hunters, or for that matter, anybody who has become lost and needed search and rescue. Information - it is all for the greater common good. Privacy concerns and court-case formalities take on a life of their own, and information should trump all this to benefit us all.

I remember the day when I was flat on a gurney in the emergency room at the Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, and I heard an officer of the law right behind the next curtain. He was a friend with a distinctive voice.

"Hey, Stepanian, is that you?" I called, and he was hesitant to reply. "HIPAA," he whispered, which has everyone on edge about "privacy."

Short for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal law requires health care providers and health plans to protect the privacy of people's health information.

The law does not reach that far beyond common sense. Neither do privacy issues nor court cases nor accident synopses reach beyond the common sense that could help someone on down the line.

We can get this, and do, because of the transparency of our system and the rule of law. For instance, were they using seatbelts? This is my rule, not the state's. I'll buckle up whenever I'm on the road. I 'm sick and tired after 45 years of newspapering of writing about those who didn't. What a shame.

We tend to be compliant and inhibited by rules, and how we read them, especially those that are ludicrous. We should challenge such mindsets at every turn, but not to others' detriment.

Having said that, buckle up - it's your choice.

.John Harrigan's address is P.O. Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at

OutdoorsHikingHuntingJohn HarriganGeneral NewsColebrook

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