Training firemen to overcome phobia of snakes

Firefighters gather for a group photo after attending the five-day basic course on handling poisonous animal at the Fire and Rescue Academy (Eastern Region) in Marang, Terengganu. — Bernama photos

Avlyanie shows a snake caught by her during one of the sessions.

MARANG: Fireman Abdul Hafiz Abdul Wahab’s fire-fighting skills cannot be faulted but whenever he and his colleagues are summoned to capture snakes, he prefers to take a back seat as he is terrified of the slithery reptiles.

“During our snake-catching operations, I would remain at the back and help my colleagues who are experts in handling snakes but I would never get near them,” exclaimed Abdul Hafiz, who has been serving the Fire and Rescue Department for the past six years and is attached with the station at Genting Highlands.

Now, however, he has more or less conquered his fear of snakes, having recently learnt the proper techniques to handle the venomous reptiles.

Abdul Hafiz was among 23 firefighters from all over Peninsular Malaysia who attended a five-day basic course on handling poisonous animals that was conducted last month at the Fire and Rescue Academy (Eastern Region) in Marang, Terengganu.

He had his share of jittery moments during the course.

“When the trainer opened a sack that was filled with snakes, I jumped out of my seat (in fear)… which got my fellow attendees in fits of laughter.

“I was very scared indeed but plucked up the courage to learn to handle these creatures,” he told Bernama, adding that as a fireman he has to be ready to face all kinds of challenges and situations, including capturing snakes.

Learn new things

Abdul Hafiz said among the skills he picked up during the course was identifying the different types of venomous snakes, instead of merely sizing them up based on the shape and position of their fangs.

To help overcome their phobia of snakes, the course participants were taught to build up their confidence by touching the snake and getting a feel of its physical form.

“We were also trained to perform first aid on snakebite victims, which mainly involved making them wear a splint to reduce limb movements to prevent the venom from spreading to the rest of the body,” he added.

Avlyanie Moidi, 21, who is attached with the fire station at Jalan Kelang Lama, Kuala Lumpur, also had a phobia of snakes until she attended the recent course.

The sole woman participant at the course, she said previously she would scream in terror whenever, in the course of her work, she held a snake and felt it wriggling in her hand.

It is a different story now, thanks to the trainer’s guidance and the support of her fellow firemen who attended the course.

“Although my aversion to snakes was still there, at least I was able to handle them when undergoing training to capture snakes. I now have the confidence to face these reptiles without any fear,” she said, adding that she had come a long way from the time when she was so afraid of the reptile that she would flee the moment someone mentioned ‘snake’.

Avlyanie, who is from Sabah, said she would have to put her newly acquired knowledge and skills into practice regularly lest her phobia of snakes returned.

“Women are generally known to be afraid of scaly reptiles but then handling snakes is something we firefighters have to do irrespective of our gender,” she added.

Theory and practical

Head trainer at the recent course on handling poisonous animals, Safiq Mohamad, 26, said the course was aimed at equipping fire-fighters with the skills to handle venomous creatures such as snakes and producing more expert snake handlers in the force.

“Currently in our country, there are only four trainers who have the expertise to conduct courses on handling poisonous animals for firefighters. On the other hand, we get a lot of complaints of snakes creeping into homes and other places,” he said.

According to Safiq, snakes tend to be more visible during the dry season when they emerge from their nests to search for cooler areas.

“This is a typical characteristic of cold-blooded animals as they cannot withstand high temperatures and can die if the weather gets too hot,” he explained.

Commenting on the course, he said the participants got to learn to handle snakes not only in theory but also the practical aspect of it, where they were required to take part in snake-catching operations in actual settings like the ruins of buildings and enclosed areas such as houses.

This would prepare them to later undertake similar operations on their own without the supervision of the trainer.

During the course, the participants were also required to gather in an enclosed area – with about 20 small-sized cobras to keep them company! But there was hardly any time for them to confront their fear as each of them had to capture a snake, while two trainers would observe them closely to ensure their safety.

Safiq said in the course of conducting the courses, he had come across participants who were so terrified of snakes that they would run and hide somewhere in the building during the practical sessions.

“But once they are taught how to handle the snakes and control their feelings, they become more confident.

“After a few days of training, we can notice the changes in the participants. During the course, we also expose them to the regulations related to (the protection and conservation of) wildlife, with the cooperation of the Terengganu Wildlife Department,” he added. — Bernama

Abdul Hafiz (left) and Avlyanie engage in a snake-catching operation.

It takes skills and experience to handle poisonous snakes.

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