Chief’s Corner: Snakes Alive! It’s Spring

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By Sam DiGiovanna

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It’s springtime so naturally people and snakes begin to share the outdoors and encounters with snakes become inevitable.

California has a variety of snakes, most of which are benign. The exception is California’s only native venomous snake – the rattlesnake.

Rattlesnakes generally strike when threatened or deliberately provoked, but given room they will retreat. The potential of running into a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors, but there are several precautions that can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten when out in snake country, which is just about anywhere in California.

The dos and don’ts in snake country:

First, know that rattlesnakes are not confined to rural areas. They have been found near urban areas, in river or lakeside parks, at golf courses and in backyards. Be aware that startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively. There are several safety measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of startling a rattlesnake.

• Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas. Wear hiking boots.

• When hiking, stick to well-used trails and wear over-the-ankle boots and loose-fitting long pants. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.

• Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see, and avoid wandering around in the dark. Step on logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.

• Be careful when stepping over the doorstep as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.

• Do not handle a freshly killed snake, it can still inject venom.

• Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone. Children are naturally curious and will pick up snakes.

More Rattlesnake information and what to do in the event of a snake bite:

It is important to have a plan in place for responding to any situation. Carry a portable phone, hike with a companion who can assist in an emergency, and make sure that family or friends know where you are going and when you will be checking in. Check out this website for additional information: http://www.calpoison.com/public/snakebite.html

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Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna lives in Aliso Viejo and works for the Glendale fire department’s Verdugo training academy.