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Tue, July 14

Mohave County Wilderness column: Playing it safe in the great outdoors

When you encounter a scorpion, snake or other creature, the best advice is to leave it alone. (Photo by Highqueue, Public domain)

When you encounter a scorpion, snake or other creature, the best advice is to leave it alone. (Photo by Highqueue, Public domain)

Early in our years with Search and Rescue, my wife and I started a program of safety instruction for kids. We went to schools, Scout meetings, churches and other venues to talk about staying safe while playing in the outdoors. We called the program PlaySafe.

We’d begin our presentation talking about how there are lots of fun things to do while playing outside, like exploring washes and hills, and hiking and riding bikes.

It was important to let them know that, while outside having fun, it was good to have a few common sense rules that might be the difference between having a good time or worrying their parents when they don’t come home on time or worse, become lost or hurt. Having been a teacher, my wife knew that kids liked their information “short and sweet” so we came up with four basic rules to think about – rules of the road, so to speak. They are:

  • tell someone.
  • check it out.
  • leave it alone.
  • stay put.

First, we stressed the importance of always telling someone where they were going. Even if it was just to a friend or neighbor’s house, tell someone where they’re going, if they’d be with anyone else and when they’d be home. That way, in case of an emergency, the parents would know where to start looking. We also reminded them that when possible, it’s best to go with someone else, like in the Buddy System.

We asked the kids to check it out, meaning before doing something, stop, think and look for signs of danger. This sounds easy, but sometimes kids don’t check out a play area because they’re having too much fun or they think it’s not a cool thing to do. Maybe they don’t know what danger looks like.

One example of this was when riding a bike and jumping hills, not to ride over a hill or jump a hill before first stopping and looking things over. There might be something dangerous on the other side, like broken glass, a piece of wood with nails or a hole in the ground.

Is there something poisonous living under that rock or piece of wood they’re about to pick up? Stop, think, and check it out. Always look before stepping over something or moving an object because it just might scare the wrong kind of snake or spider.

When swimming at the lake or river, is it safe to dive off of rocks? How does one know how deep the water is and if there are hidden rocks just below the surface? So first, stop, think, and check it out.

Leave it alone seems easy enough, but sometimes this is very hard for kids to do. They’re naturally curious and fascinated by critters and want to get a closer look. Sometimes it’s best to avoid danger by simply leaving it alone. The best example of this are poisonous animals, but really, leave all wild animals alone. We pointed out that when out playing and coming across a rattlesnake, scorpion, black widow or Africanized bees to steer clear. Wild critters of all kinds can carry diseases.

After play-acting to reinforce the first three rules we tackled the fourth.

What happens if someone is lost or hurt and needs to be rescued? A missing person is an emergency. If you think that someone is missing, call 911 right away; don’t wait 24 hours like you hear about on television. The sheriff’s office and search and rescue want to find the missing person unhurt and they need to start the search as soon as possible.

What if you’re the one who’s lost? What should you do? First of all, stay calm and stay put! These are the two best things to do. As soon as first responders get a call, day or night, they start searching. First, they try to find your footprints or tire tracks to begin tracking you. Depending on where a person is reported lost, searchers might be on foot, on ATVs, or in Jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles, checking city streets and roads, and driving washes and fields. It doesn’t really matter where you’re lost. If you stay put the searchers will probably find you in a few hours.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, PlaySafe rules apply to more than just kids. They can apply to anyone and in many different situations – hunting, hiking, four-wheeling, geocaching, prospecting, etc. When first responders are searching for someone, they’ve already gathered a lot of general information about the person or persons. They’ll be wearing identifiable clothing and they’ll be calling your name. Make yourself visible and remember, getting lost can happen to anyone.

If you have comments or want to share experiences, write me at

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