From the Chiefís Corner

Snakes eyes — they're watching!
By Chief Sam DiGiovanna
Verdugo Fire Academy/Lexipol Consultant

We know all about those snakes at the station that slither around trying to work their way into promotions, departmentt social circles, politics, or even belly up to the chief. Theyíll do anything (even bite you in the back) as long as it benefits them.

But the snake Iím talking about is actually more fearful of you, however just as dangerous and you need to exercise caution around them, Rattlesnakes!

April and May mark the beginning of rattlesnake season in California. If youíve worked in the fire service here for long, youíve probably encountered them at one time or another. Unless youíre one of those odd people who seem to like getting startled by a rattler while cutting fireline in a canyon somewhere, or performing a progressive hose lay, encountering snakes is not a pleasant experience.

But it doesnít have to be a dangerous one.

Many of us will be starting our brush compliance programs and will be inspecting hillside properties, soon to be followed by what will likely be a very active fire season, responding to wildland incidents and on strike teams.

So itís a great time for a refresher with your crew on staying safe around snakes. And why not use the same information to create a quick Public Safety Announcement (PSA) within your community? Several news sources are reporting that rattlesnake sightings are on the increase, likely fueled by a heavy rain season. The rains push snakes out of their hiding places, and increasing green areas attract rattlers looking for food.

Practice these precautions:
  • Be on the lookout when walking the hillsides, especially if youíre operating loud machinery that may make it difficult to hear the signature rattle. Note: If youíre wearing headphones, keep music low and practice additional caution.
  • Make your home less hospitable to snakes. Yard debris, wood piles, gaps under homes, wooden decks, cement patios and open water sources (snakes feel the drought too!) can attract snakes. Remove brush piles and fill gaps as much as possible. Watch for snakes around pools and ponds.
  • Keep bushes and shrubs six inches or less off the ground. According to Jim Cornett, a desert ecologist and author of the book Desert Snakes, this will make the snake feel less secure when hiding, so it will be more likely to move along on its way.
  • Watch your feet and hands. If you lose sight of them, such as when you reach under a rock or step into a brush pile, the potential to be bitten increases.
  • If you encounter a snake, donít antagonize it. Giving them space is the best approach. They will generally slither along on their own accord!
  • If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, stay calm, dial 911 and seek immediate help. Lie down and keep the affected limb lower than the heart.
For additional Rattlesnake Safety, click here. Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.