By Cherise Kaechele

The Observer

The Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative employees who helped save a hunter who had been dangling upside down for two days during the summer were commended for their help at Wednesday night’s
La Grande City Council meeting.

In late August, Edward Voelker, of Prineville, was found suspended head down from a tree 20 to 30 feet in the air after he fell while hunting. He was tangled in his safety harness and unable to free himself.

A multi-agency rescue — made up of the La Grande Fire Department, Union County Search and Rescue, LifeFlight, Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, Pendleton Fire Department, Oregon Trail Electric Coop and U.S. Forest Service — all came together to save Voelker, who is 70 years old.

Approximately 30 people were there to help the man. It was not an easy task because of the possible health problems caused by being upside down for two days. Before responders could move Voelker, they had to tackle the challenge of how to treat him 25 feet above the ground. The unusual situation demanded an unusual solution.

LGFD Capt. Robert
Tibbetts and LGFD EMT Jerid Ployhar were on their way to the scene when Ployhar made a comment about getting OTEC to help, Tibbetts told The Observer in August. The EMT recalled OTEC employees are trained to save people from power poles, a situation similar to Voelker’s plight.

Tibbetts said that was the first time, as far as he knew, the fire department had requested OTEC’s bucket truck in a rescue mission.

“I wasn’t certain they were going to play ball,” Tibbetts was quoted in The Observer. “Not because they aren’t helpful, but because it was such an unusual request.”

OTEC immediately deployed a truck and its crew got there as quickly as they could. With their help, the medical responders were able to reach Voelker and eventually remove him from his predicament.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, the OTEC employees who helped get Voelker out of the tree were recognized for their actions. Two of the four men were there to represent the team.

“There is a group who assisted that would not normally be asked to respond to this type of incident. That organization is (OTEC),” said LGFD Chief Les Thomas. “We would like to take this opportunity to recognize OTEC and its workers who provided us a bucket truck to aid in the rescue.”

Thomas said without the assistance of the OTEC staff, the “outcome could have become tragic.”

The members of the OTEC team — Al Dockweiler, Blake Eckstein, Seth McKern and Dan Patton — were given certificates and City of La Grande Fire Department challenge coins for their assistance.

“The individual saved that day from almost certain death has almost recovered and is able to walk on his own,” Thomas said. “He is expected to make a full recovery.”

Firefighters Tibbetts and Ployhar, Joshua McGonagle and Chancy Ferguson were privately recognized in November for their part in Voelker’s rescue. They were given the Above and Beyond Award by La Grande City Manager Robert Strope.

Additionally, the LGFD was recognized on an EMS website as having the fifth most “strange” rescue in the nation this year.

“While most calls are fairly routine, first responders dealt with several incidents in 2018 that are so unbelievable, they sound like episodes of a fictional television show,” according to the Year in Review article on