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Snake alarm: Red and yellow, feed it Jell-O?

A poisonous snake can be a dangerous situation for the residents and fire people as well.

I learned very quickly upon my entry into the fire service that we do a lot more than go to fires. Granted we are in the EMS business, but we are called into action in other situations as well.

The usual scenario involves a person in some type of distress. Locked in, locked out, stuck in something or in some other compromising situation.

I have always likened it to "The Ghostbusters," and "Who you gonna call?" I feel it is in our best interest to go and try to help as, along with the police and school teachers, we in the fire service are responsible for our country's economic problems, if the swinging cutbacks and media attacks we're coming under nowadays are anything to go by…

AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski
AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski

Another situation my department at least has to deal with on occasion in the humidified tropical climate of south east Texas is unwanted house guests.

I was working the other day when the speakers kicked on and a tone alerted us to an impending crisis. However, the pleasant female voice began the announcement with, "Assist the citizen, respond non emergency."

After a short drive, we pulled in front of the house. I don’t even have to get out of the truck or ask questions. I can see what the problem is from the fire truck.

Inside the well kept fenced yard was a small, wood-frame house. The front door stands open and three women stand in the front yard. You can see the fear in their eyes coupled with a look of horror etched on their faces.

I stroll into the yard and ask my new friends what the problem is. They immediately answer in unison: "Snake!!" I knew it.

This happens from time to time. We had a grass snake in our kitchen last summer. I took a broom and ushered him back outside, where upon he happily slithered away.

Dangerous situation
A poisonous snake can be a dangerous situation for the residents and fire people as well. I don't usually take action unless there is an immediate life hazard. On occasion I have guided a few out of garages with a pike pole, but for the most part we recommend the owner call an exterminating company that handles snakes.

I began to question the occupants about the snake. I asked what color the snake was. I was told black. Oh that's bad. Sounds like a water moccasin, a poisonous member of the pit viper club.

EMTs and paramedics learn about the dangers of nature during the environmental emergencies chapter of their training. Colors of snakes, musical instrument shapes on spiders, etc. Pit vipers are so named because they have a depression, or pits, on their heads.

There is even a snake, the coral snake, which has an identifying rhyme assigned to it. Red on yellow, kill a fellow; Red on black, venom lack, with the colors referring to the bands on the snake.

This, however, requires you to get the rhyme in the correct order and could lead to confusion in time of crisis. Red on black, it's good sense that Will lacks. Red and yellow, feed it Jell-O. (And they don't think I pay attention in medical classes)

That is all nice to know, but I am not going face to face with a snake to see if it is a pit viper. I'm not overly afraid of them — I just give them a healthy respect. I have come up with my own rhyme to alleviate confusion.

If you see a snake with red and black
Get the hell away from that.

Squeeze their lunch
Seriously, as far as I am concerned, snakes can be grouped as "bites" or "doesn't bite." But that is also misleading as some snakes squeeze their lunch to death.

And I'm not going to walk out of the house with a snake dangling from my forearm, hanging by his fangs which are embedded deep in my arms and announce, "Don't worry, he's not poisonous!”

Back at the scene of the reptile hostage drama, I next asked how big the snake was. All three women immediately stretched their arms out as far as they could reach. This isn't a snake, it's Puff the Magic Dragon.

During all of this, a representative from the county animal control agency had arrived and explained the best thing to do was to stay next door and call an exterminator that specializes in snakes.

I like it. I’m on board. But in emergencies as in life, just when you think things are going your way, they aren't.

One of the ladies has sat down and appears to be ill. I ask what is going on. The lady suffers from diabetes and her medicine is in the house. Grand. I interrogate the home owner as to the exact whereabouts of the medicine.

The medicine is in a discount store bag on her bed in the bedroom. She provided exact directions to the bedroom. My next question is where did you see the snake? I am told in the kitchen.

Good. The serpent is probably looking through the fridge to see what is there. I can slip in and rescue the medicine without incident. However, she immediately adds the snake was slithering down the hallway to the bedroom when she last saw it. Wonderful.

I enter the house armed with a pike pole. I have chosen a short pike pole so I can wield it in tight quarters if the snake attacks. Holding the pike pole with my arms fully extended like a Samurai warrior, I enter the living room.

No sign of Nessie. I ease down the hall, against one wall. The house is fully furnished with ottomans, floor length drapes and furniture, so the varmint could be anywhere. In fact, he is probably looking at me laughing, thinking, "Look at this idiot."

I feel like I am in one of my kids' video games; you know, with the red screen and the cross hairs on the target. (Me!)

After pushing the door open with the pike pole, the medicine is sure enough right where she said it was. Medicine rescued, home owner medicated, tax payers happy — by all accounts a successful operation. What next?

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