Firefighter hospitalized after being bitten by venomous pit viper

A firefighter was treated with antivenom, and kept under observation, after after being bitten by a venomous brown-spotted pit viper while on snake-catching duties in a mountainous area of Keelung City today, November 27.

The Keelung City Fire Department received an emergency 119 call from the owner of a guesthouse at around 12:30pm, reporting a snake was spotted in a bathroom.

Two firefighters, officers Lu and Zeng, were dispatched from the Zhongzheng District Fire Station to take care of the animal, in what is referred to by firefighters in Taiwan as “snake and bee” duties (“bee” referring generically to bees, wasps, and hornets).

Upon arriving at the scene, the owner of the guesthouse said that the snake was seen hanging around outside the bathroom, then was later spotted inside.

Officer Zeng, wearing protective gloves, prepared a cage to put the snake in, and Lu opened the bathroom door to search for the snake. According to reports in United Daily News, and Liberty Times Network, as soon as Lu opened the door, the snake fell from a stone wall and bit Lu on the hand.

Zeng quickly grabbed the snake and put it in the cage, then called an ambulance.

Lu was treated with antivenom at the Keelung branch of Tri-Services General Hospital, then sent to Keelung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital for observation and follow-up treatment.

The snake was identified as a brown-spotted pit viper (Protobothrops mucrosquamatus), also known as Taiwan Habu. The Snakes of Taiwan website identifies the species as “highly venomous,” very common, and aggressive.

Firefighters took the snake to Keelung City’s Animal Protection and Epidemic Prevention Center.

Despite years of protest, firefighters in Taiwan are still being called out to take care of problems outside of their primary training of fighting fires.

Catching and release of dangerous animals requires specialized skills, and fire departments are already understaffed, firefighters have argued, urging the government to return “snake and bee duties” to the Agriculture Bureau.

In Keelung City alone, firefighters were called out to 1,681 bee/wasp/hornet cases, and 921 snake-catching cases in 2018. As of the end of October this year, Keelung Firefighters have responded to 1,124 bee/wasp/hornet cases, and 830 snake-catching operations, according to government statistics.

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