Killer Bees: Firefighters Train To Respond To Attacks

Tim Szymanski reports on the training Las Vegas firefighters are receiving as the region faces a new emergency - attacks by Africanized honey bees.


In the spring of 1999, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Cullins hosted a meeting attended by all the emergency response organizations in southern Nevada about a hazard they may face “someday.” Later that year, it actually happened. On Sunday, Oct. 3, 1999 at 10:30...


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Honey bees contain a body liquid (iso-pentyl acetate) known as a pheromone. When a bee stings, its insides are left with the stinger, killing the bee. At the same time, the pheromone is released as an odor alerting other bees of the sting, advising them to attack. When the other bees detect the odor, they home in on the source and attack in large numbers. The odor will also be present if you smash a bee. Since the dog was stung several thousand times, a strong odor of the pheromone was present, which made the bees to continue their defensive posture.

It was decided that firefighters using a foam line off Engine 42 would escort the beekeeper to retrieve the dog. When they reached the dog, its remains were covered with foam, then placed into a plastic bag. They took it to an Animal Control unit parked on the street. The beekeeper estimated the large dog had been stung in excess of 10,000 times.

After the dog was removed, the bees continued to be agitated. The beekeeper advised Johnson that it would be in the best interest of public safety if the bees were destroyed immediately, but the he would need the assistance of the firefighters. Again, using the 13?4-inch handline, firefighters entered the backyard using a semifog pattern, spraying foam on the flying bees. The bees immediately fell to the ground and then foam was sprayed on the hive box. As each section of the hive box was dismantled, it was saturated with foam and then placed into a plastic bag. It appeared the foam killed the bees almost immediately. It was estimated that over 25,000 bees were in the hive. After the operation was completed, two other large swarms were found nearby hanging in trees and they were destroyed as well.

After nearly four hours of operations, the area was determined to be safe. Residents were cautioned that some of the bees were not with the swarm when it was destroyed and they would return to the area, looking for the hive box.

Britianie was able to leave the house and was examined by fire paramedics on the scene. She suffered only a few stings. The other occupants in the garage apartment remained in the apartment during the entire ordeal. They were not harmed. The Nevada Department of Agriculture examined the bees and determined that they were Africanized honey bees.

When bees swarm, they are flying around looking for a new place to make a hive. Experts with the Agriculture Department believed that the swarm located the old hive boxes within the previous week and immediately started to make a hive. When the dog went outside and noticed the bees, it probably started barking at the hive box, prompting the attack.

Since then, there have been numerous sightings of bee swarms in the Las Vegas Valley. Although at least one swarm was removed from a downtown casino, the majority of the sightings are in the quiet residential areas. Professional exterminators were having a brisk business of removing the bees from attics of homes and apartment buildings, inside water sprinklers boxes, and from trees and other places. In one case, bees established a hive in a home in October. Concerned, the homeowner contacted a professional exterminator in January. The exterminator determined the hive was well established and the bees had accumulated about 50 pounds of honey. Experts believe they will have to remove the roof of the house to get rid of the bees. Although there were many sightings and exterminators were kept busy, there were no reports of bee attacks on humans or animals.

But that changed on Feb. 9, 2000. Once again, bees attacked a person, this time a 79-year-old man. It was just before noon and firefighters were notified that bees on Saylor Way, near an elementary school, were attacking a man.

LVFR Rescue 3 was first on the scene. Paramedics found the man inside the cab of a city pickup truck and it appeared that several of the bees were inside the cab and still alive. The crew parked the rescue about 150 feet from the pickup and dressed in full protective clothing, then took the man out. They checked him for live bees attached to his clothing and then put him in the back of the ambulance. It appeared he had been stung at least 30 times. Because of his age, he was immediately taken to the Trauma Unit at University Medical Center.