Tractor to the rescue: Local man comes to the aid of Ancient Lakes campers
With his home bordered by public lands, Dave Bishop of Quincy is often the go-to person when public agencies send out a call for help.
From helping capture wildlife poachers to lending a hand to distressed hikers or campers, the local farmer has served as a sentinel from his home near the Ancient Lakes area and Frenchmen Hills Coulee, land his father first bought in 1951.
“Dave has been a tremendous neighbor to fish and wildlife,” said Steve Crown, chief of law enforcement for the state agency.
For his most recent efforts, Bishop was honored on Tuesday in Ephrata at the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Regional 2 annual meeting and award ceremony.
Before a crowd of some 50 people, Bishop accepted the “Lifesaving Award” for coming to the aid last month of two men who were suffering from severe heat exhaustion and teetering on the brink of death.
The award recognized Bishop for his “lifesaving effort and devoted service to WDFW police and the citizens of Washington state.”
“He’s just a great guy,” said Crown, who’s known Bishop for 12 years.
On July 10, Bishop received a call from fish and wildlife Officer Will Smith. The two men have talked frequently over the last four years, when Smith was assigned to the area. Bishop calls Smith to let him know a bear or elk is passing through the scablands he calls home. He’s notified Smith of elk poachers, and he helps out by filling the state’s wild bird feeders in the winter. He’s even played a poacher in a training video for wildlife officers.
“He knows the area very well,” Smith said.
But on this day, Smith had an emergency on his hands. Two campers were stranded in the Ancient Lakes area in 104-degree temperatures. They had called law enforcement for help and then their phone went dead.
Someone had to get to the men quickly. Someone who had a vehicle that could make it over the rocky and sandy terrain.
Smith knew the one person who could get to the men the fastest.
It would have taken fish and wildlife officers a long time to reach the property and then to get oriented, agreed Crown.
“(Bishop) was seconds from entering into the property,” he said.
Bishop has gotten similar calls over the years. Often times, recreationists headed into the Ancient Lakes area are ill-prepared because they are unfamiliar with the terrain or weather conditions of the scablands, Bishop said.
Last summer, after getting a call from Smith, Bishop set out to find a 140-pound Rottweiler that had collapsed in the heat. The dog’s owners, people from the west side of the mountains, hadn’t brought water for the dog when they went into the Ancient Lakes area, Bishop said.
Bishop put the dog into the front loader of his tractor, carried it to his nearby pond and then gave it fresh water to drink.
“They don’t have a clue when they drive in there in the morning and it’s 75 degrees,” Bishop said. “People just don’t realize that, man, this is a desert.”
On July 10, with the phone call from Smith, Bishop loaded up his tractor with water and turned on the air conditioning. His gut told him the men would be on a trail that runs along the bluffs near the lake. If they were camping, and the men were, that’s the trail they would know, he said.
“Having the tractor, I just took off cross country over the trail,” he said. “They hadn’t gotten very far from the lake.”
When Bishop pulled up in his tractor to the men, who he would later learn were brothers, he found a situation that he described as “surreal.” He was certain one of the men was dead.
The man in question lay face down on the trail. He had passed out once already in the lake, but his brother had pulled him from the waters and gotten him on the trail, where he collapsed again, Bishop said.
The other man was sitting in the shade of a sagebrush. Neither had a shirt on. Both didn’t move.
“They were in a daze,” Bishop said. “They were in bad shape.”
Bishop loaded the men into his tractor, putting the sicker of the men in the seat next to him and the other on the floor of the tractor. He turned up the air conditioning and gave them water as the sicker brother went in and out of consciousness, Bishop said.
Bishop reached the gate to the Ancient Lakes area in minutes. Waiting for him there was an ambulance, which took the men to Quincy Valley Medical Center. The men made a full recovery, Crown said.
A photo Smith snapped of Bishop after the men were taken away shows just how locals know Bishop. The local farmer is barefooted, as he is most days of the year, and smiling. His beloved Papillon, Archie, stands outside the cab. And, yes, Archie, joined in the rescue that day.
“I’ve always really enjoyed his company,” Smith said of Bishop. “He is colorful.”
As for Bishop, he shrugged off some of the compliments on Tuesday, saying he was just at the right place at the right time.
“And the right guy at the right time,” Crown said.
“With a good tractor,” Bishop added.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, firstname.lastname@example.org