By the nature of their work, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officers know rural and remote parts of the state better than most.
That kind of knowledge recently allowed officers to rescue an elderly Seattle woman with multiple sclerosis (MS) who drove off a rural Columbia Basin road, became stuck in a creek, and was unable to get out of her vehicle.
Late on the night of May 25, WDFW Officer Michael Jewell and Sergeant Chris Anderson of Moses Lake received a call from local 911 operators asking for assistance to search for a woman who had made a cell phone call for help from her stuck vehicle.
Officials were not sure if the woman was in Grant, Adams or Franklin County. Local law enforcement officers were not familiar enough with the area to even know where to start searching. All the woman knew was that she thought she was somewhere on Highway 24 when she had driven off onto a side road trying to find the White Bluffs area of the Mid-Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.
The woman advised local 911 operators that she suffered from MS and was unable to get out of her vehicle. In the dark, all she could see were some powerlines on wooden poles and the stream she was sitting in.
Officer Jewell and Sergeant Anderson believed the vague description she had provided was enough to start searching, and they found her within half-an-hour near the Grant-Adams county line north of Highway 24.
The woman had driven down an old, brushy, abandoned 2-track road about 500 yards from the highway and had then attempted to drive across a tree-clogged stream down in a gully. Two fire trucks from Othello were summoned and were able to get close enough to the woman's vehicle to use their winches to pull her out. She was treated by paramedics at the scene and released.
"There is no doubt that this woman would not have been found unless an airplane had been used the next day," said Anderson.
WDFW northcentral region Captain Steve Dauma noted that the incident was "not the first time that our officers' familiarity with a local area has contributed to the safety of our citizens."