Snakes in Maricopa: one of MFD's 'most popular calls'

By Ash Friedrich

April 16, 2011 - 12:00 am
The Western Diamondback rattlesnake is the cause of most snake bites.

Spring is here. Trees and plants are gaining new leaves, birds are chirping in the morning and temperatures are climbing quickly.

Another sign that spring is here usually comes with loud warnings: rattlesnakes.

“A lot of times snakes can be in a yard and have no idea where they are,” said Maricopa Fire spokesman Brad Pitassi. “As soon as people hear that rattle, their sixth sense kicks in, and they get nervous.”

Rattlesnakes began coming out from hibernation earlier this month with the warmer weather.

“They become more prevalent in June; that’s the peak of it,” Pitassi said. “When we still have cool nights and warm mornings, they’ll come out. Snake removal is one of our most popular calls.”

The Maricopa Fire Department has already been called out several times this year. Some fire departments will remove a snake if it is a perceived threat, but MFD will remove it free of charge and relocate the snake in the desert.

“People should call 911, and we’ll come out if there is a threat, if there are definitely life safety issues or if they are in the house or garage,” said Pitassi, regarding the removal of a snake.

“If it’s in the middle of the street, just let it go. If it starts going towards someone’s property, or there is a threat and it’s not moving towards a field or open space, then call.”

Preventing snake bites

There are nine or 10 species of snakes in Arizona. The Western Diamondback is usually the most widely seen and most responsible for bites. The Diamondback can introduce large doses of venom.

Nationally, there are somewhere in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 bites reported, but the number of fatalities are very low due to a lot of medical centers carrying antivenin.

The most important thing to remember when hiking, gardening or working in the garage is to watch where you put your hands or feet. Snakes can enter a garage and need only a couple of inches to maneuver into small areas.

Most bites have resulted from people choosing to approach the snake after realizing what it was even though they may have recognized the danger.

“Snakes usually like to tend to themselves,” Pitassi said. “They’re not overly aggressive if left alone. When people are hiking on the trails in the early morning or they have their dogs or you impede on their turf, they’ll start feeling defensive or threatened; they’ll start rattling.”

The rattling is usually the first sign that something is wrong. A snake may strike, and a person should move away from it.

“Snakes will start rattling, and, when it’s an imminent threat for a bite, that’s when you will see the coil,” Pitassi said. “They’ll put themselves in a position where they can defend themselves properly.”

MFD responds to calls and treats all bites whether they contain venom or not. They assess the situation when they arrive on scene.

What to do if bitten

If you are bitten, go immediately to a medical facility. Don't use a tourniquet or make incisions around the bite because you're likely to do more harm than good. Don't try to capture or kill the snake for identification. It's dangerous and not necessary because all rattler bites are treated with the same antivenin.

File photo

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