Snakes put heat on firefighters - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Snakes put heat on firefighters

Calls are coming in; departments try to educate

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Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:21 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

With rising temperatures, fire departments are responding to dozens of snake calls a day. While some departments have filtered their responses to certain types of snake sightings, all fire departments respond to calls from people coming across a rattlesnake within a closed-in area such as a backyard or a house, or if someone has been bitten by a snake.

While departments like Rural / Metro Fire District and Golder Ranch Fire District respond to each snake call regardless of the circumstances, Northwest Fire District's dispatchers have played a more active role in snake calls since March.

Northwest Fire dispatchers learn if everyone is OK, then ask callers if the snake is in an open area. If it's outside the yard in the desert, the snake is most likely passing through. Dispatchers advise callers to keep everyone, including pets and children, away from the snake until it has moved on.

If the snake is in an enclosed area, all departments will relocate the snake to a nearby open area.

With departments running at least 300 snake calls a month, and responding to a few snake bites a year, costs and non-emergency factors come into play.

"In addition to reducing fuel costs and wear and tear on fire engines," said Northwest Fire Chief Jeff Piechura in a release, "eliminating the non-emergency snake calls will allow firefighters to respond more often to emergency fire and medical calls directly from stations, rather than from a non-emergency snake call that may have taken them to a far end of their response area."

Golder Ranch Fire District continues to run on each snake call. On those non-threatening calls where the snake is either not in an enclosed area or is non-poisonous, firefighters use it as a time to educate and be of service to the public.

"The biggest thing that we do when we go to a snake call is we aspire to try to educate the people on what they can do, for lack of a better term, is (to) snake-proof their property," said Golder Ranch Community Services Division Chief John Sullivan.

On their calls, firefighters talk directly to homeowners, and usually see a change of mind toward snakes.

"Once we educate the public on it, they are usually pretty open to it and not so afraid of them," said Golder Ranch firefighter paramedic Jason Rivera. "We even have some people that request we bring the non-poisonous (snakes) to their property."

One bit of information usually mentioned to a resident is how he or she can make their property less appealing to snakes. Snakes are usually pretty lazy by nature, and don't travel very far in search for food.

By eliminating woodpiles, rodents and food for rodents, along with placing rat traps around a property, homeowners can eliminate one of the main food sources for snakes. If a non-poisonous snake is removed from a property and the food source is not eliminated, there is the possibility of a poisonous snake taking its place.

All fire departments will respond to a snake posing an immediate threat, including near schools, daycare entry or bus stops.

If you encounter a snake:

Back away slowly

Alert others in the area

Restrain pets

Keep an eye on the snake until it moves out of the area

If it is in your yard and you would like it removed, call your fire department

If bitten:

Stay calm

Remove constricting items such as watches and jewelry from the bitten area

Immobilize the bitten extremity, keep below heart level

Transport the victim to the closest health care facility as soon as possible.

If possible, circle the swelling with a pen or marker incrementally to gauge the swelling and severity of the bite.

Do not use ice, tourniquets, electricity, drugs, or try to cut the skin.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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