Call of the Wild: MDFR’s Venom One comes to snake bite victims’ aid

(WSVN) - Snakes can strike in a heartbeat, and you never know where one can be hiding. But as 7’s Kevin Ozebek tells us, a crack team of specialists are always on standby here in South Florida, ready to answer the Call of the Wild.

You hardly ever see it coming.

Jerel Heywood, bitten by snake: “Bit me right around my eyelid.”

In a split second, fangs can find you.

Miramar teen bitten: “I stepped out and stepped on it, and it bit me in the leg.”

Their poison can cripple or kill.

Capt. Jeffrey Fobb, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Venom One: “There’s probably close to a million snake bites and maybe somewhere around 100,000 fatalities every year throughout the world.”

Here in South Florida, there can be as many as 50 snake bites a year. But thanks to the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Venom Response Team, known as Venom One, we have special protection.

Capt. Jeffrey Fobb: “Our goal is to get the medication to the patient rapidly so the hospital can administer it, and then the patient’s going to have their best outcome.”

It’s an elite team made up of just three firefighters: Capt. Jeffrey Fobb, Lt. Christopher Pecori, and Lt. Jolie Vandervlugt.

Their training is intense.

Lt. Christopher Pecori, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Venom One: “It was a year and a half of just handling to get my venomous reptile license.”

When a snake bite is reported, the on-duty Venom One officer rushes to the call.

Lt. Jolie Vandervlugt, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Venom One: “As long as we can identify what species it is, then we have a pretty good idea how to treat it.”

Next they come to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue headquarters to pick up the antivenin. This is the only public use antivenin bank in the U.S. These vials are key to treating the most deadly bites.

Lt. Jolie Vandervlugt: “It’s amazing, ’cause we can basically either save a life or save a limb.”

Venom One goes right to the victim or meets them at the hospital where they also work with emergency room teams.

Lt. Christopher Pecori: “Most ER physicians and staff nurses may never see a snake bite. It’s reassuring having someone that has managed these, who’s been through it, seen the complications, and followed them through and resolved them.”

You might not know it, but in South Florida, venomous water moccasins live in and around waterways. and there are rattlesnakes, too.

Lt. Vandervlugt recently captured an Eastern diamondback in homestead before it could bite anyone.

Anthony Terry, snake bite survivor: “It’s like someone is taking a hot hammer and beating on your finger every time your heart beats.”

Everglades Park Ranger Anthony Terry knows that pain first hand. A pygmy rattlesnake bit him on the finger, and Venom One came to the rescue.

Anthony Terry: “They used their helicopter and were there in less than 20 minutes, which basically saved my finger, saved my career, saved my life.”

When they’re not saving people, they’re saving animals.

Lt. Jolie Vandervlugt: “It’s always something new: dogs in the canal where they go up inside the drainage pipe, where you’re trying to get them out.”

Capt. Jeffrey Fobb: “We have possums get in people’s houses, raccoons, cats get in people’s attics, and we help them come up with solutions to their problems.”

But responding to snake calls is still their specialty.

Resident: “That’s somebody’s pet, right?”

Venom One member: “Yeah.”

Whether it’s a dangerous python, or a baby black racer snake stuck in a mailbox.

Capt. Jeffrey Fobb: “When we opened it up to check if he was still there, there’s just a little hole right there.”

This team can handle it all when South Florida neighborhoods and natural habitats overlap.

Lt. Jolie Vandervlugt: “II couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

That’s why they’re always standing by to answer the call of the wild.

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