MARICOPA -- The fire department in Maricopa receives a wide variety of calls ranging from the weird to the downright wild. Last week, firefighters were deployed to a surprisingly common call in the spring months of desert living: rattlesnakes.
Firefighters showed up at a home on Rosa Drive on March 30 to find a large and unhappy rattlesnake — and the residents weren’t that happy either. New homes on Rosa back up to the desert, and may seem inviting for wild critters.
Maricopa firefighters are trained on how to handle such calls and always carry protective gear and snake-catching equipment to secure the slippery reptiles. This time, the team used a snake stick and a locking bucket to secure the animal and then drove it to the desert, where it could sunbathe in peace.
“We do require our members to be in full personal protective equipment, so they’re going to have on high boots, duty pants, … gloves, as much protection as we can in case that snake either gets away or makes an aggressive move or attack, (to ensure) we’re providing the protections for that as much as possible,” said Maricopa fire spokesman Brad Pitassi.
Pitassi said that overall, the department received almost 120 calls for rattlesnakes last year. The numbers increase in the spring, when rattlesnakes leave their cozy hibernation to mate and bask in the warm sun.
The most common rattlesnake in Arizona is the Crotalus atrox, also known as the western diamondback rattlesnake. It’s the mascot of the state’s baseball team and is known for its signature rattle. But a bite from one of them will send someone to the hospital if they’re not careful.
“We always recommend that, if you observe a reptile out there — a snake, Gila monster or what have you — give it distance,” Pitassi said. “Just kind of let them be, because the snakes are going to search for food and then they’re going to go back to their dens.”
Pitassi also recommends sealing off the yard of any holes or cracks a critter could fit through, and ensuring none of the snake’s food sources are around either.
“Eliminate rodents if you have rodents around your house, mice or whatnot,” Pitassi said. “Any wood piles or if you have junk that’s just collecting in your backyard, there’s great potential for a home for either snakes or any of their food sources.”
Pitassi admits that all snakes, big or small, aren’t his favorite.
“Snakes give me the heebie jeebies, so even a six-inch snake feels like a four-foot-long snake to me,” Pitassi joked.
But just getting the heebie jeebies is not enough to call 911. If the animal does not pose an immediate threat to the household, but is causing concern, Pitassi recommends calling the Arizona Herpetological Association, which can send volunteers to help relocate the snake.
If the reptile is posing a serious risk to family or pets, however, Maricopa Fire is there to answer the call.
“If there’s an imminent threat — for instance, if it’s near a doorway, it’s in your house, that’s when we recommend calling 911 and one of our crews will come out there to relocate those snakes,” Pitassi said. “When our crews do respond to those calls, they are still in service for a higher priority medical call. If a call kicks out for service, they will let the snake be, go respond to the call and then come back and relocate — again, if there’s no imminent threat.”
Pitassi may not like snakes that much, but he understands that living in the same habitat calls for a bit of understanding and coexistence.
“We always have to remember that we’re actually living in their habitats, right? We live in the desert, this is their natural habitat,” Pitassi said.
The Arizona Herpetological Association can be reached at 480-894-1625 or at azreptiles.com.