PENDLETON — The Pendleton Fire Department and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Fisheries worked together on Thursday morning to rescue a homeless man and his dog who were trapped on an island by rising waters in the Umatilla River.
“It went well,” said Cpt. Steve Brost with the Pendleton Fire Department. “We had time to wait to try and figure out the safest solution, which is what we’re looking for.”
Dennis Ross and his dog, Pixie, had been camping on a piece of land for the last week without a problem and were caught off guard to find their campsite had become an island overnight.
“I had gone to bed to the sound of rushing water on one side of me,” Ross said. “And then I woke up to the sound of rushing water all around me.”
According to those with CTUIR Fisheries who were on the scene, the river’s levels had risen from 400 cubic feet per second Wednesday night to 7,000 cubic feet per second Thursday morning.
A woman walking down the riverfront noticed Ross and asked him if he wanted her to call 911, which he said he didn’t, thinking he could cross on his own. But Ross also had Pixie, a bike, a tent and the rest of his belongings that he couldn’t have crossed with.
The woman ultimately called for help anyway, and the Pendleton Fire Department arrived on the scene around 8 a.m. Pendleton’s emergency personnel aren’t trained or equipped for a swift-water rescue, Brost said, so they reached out to the fisheries department for help.
“We do rely a lot on outside agencies,” Brost said. “Not always fire or rescue or law enforcement. We also rely on a lot of other agencies to come in and assist. That’s the great thing about a small community.”
While waiting for a boat to arrive, the department prepared the surrounding area by cutting down trees and positioning someone in the fire engine’s basket above the river and as close to Ross as they could get.
As the wait for the fishery’s boat continued, personnel located a boat at a nearby residence and borrowed it to set up for a potential rescue attempt, but CTUIR Fisheries arrived shortly after with a drift boat and began working with the fire department to prepare a rescue attempt of its own.
Finally, after more than two hours, Jeremiah Bonifer and Craig Contor with CTUIR Fisheries set out in the drift boat a bit further upstream and made their way to Ross and the island. The two helped Ross secure all of his belongings and Pixie before bringing him safely back to the shore.
“Go out, get him, bring him back,” Bonifer said of the rescue strategy. “It’s that simple.”
Neither Bonifer or Contor had ever rescued somebody before, but said they are trained in swift-water rescue and ideally go through practice sessions once a month. Bonifer said the drift boat made things much easier by sitting higher up on the river, too.
After landing back on shore and gathering his belongings, Ross said it felt tense being trapped on the island but that he considers himself a strong swimmer and initially didn’t think he needed help.
But with his previous campsite wiped out by the flooding, Ross had one objective for the rest of his day.
“I’m going to go out and find a new place to camp, I guess,” he said.