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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At the same time, Engine 6 arrived on the scene and took command. Not knowing exactly what prompted the attack and where the bees had gone after the attack, Captain Dan Allred called for an extra engine and truck company to close off the street and alert nearby residents of the bees. His main concern was the elementary school, with approximately 900 students, directly across the street from the attack. Allred advised Fire Dispatch to notify officials at the school to activate a “shelter in place” and not to let students out of the building.

As firefighters went door to door to advise residents of the situation, they found that some bees had entered one house. They learned that when the elderly man was being attacked he went to the neighbor’s house for help. When the neighbor opened the door, the man ran into house, his head covered with bees. The neighbor pushed the man back outside, but many bees were left in the house and started to sting pets. Knowing that conditions were worse outside than in the house, firefighters told the neighbor to stay inside and to keep the pets inside. But the neighbor became concerned when one of the pets appeared to be lifeless. He wanted to take the animals to a veterinarian, but firefighters were also concerned about the large number of bees that were just outside his house.

The decision was made to evacuate the man and his pets into a parked car. To ensure that the pheromones did not alert the other bees, the animals were tightly wrapped in blankets and quickly moved to the waiting car. The animals were promptly taken to the veterinarian where they were treated and released, fully recovered.

Within an hour, three professional exterminators arrived and assessed the situation. They found that the bees had an extremely large hive inside a double-side wood plank fence in the backyard. After several attempts to exterminate the bees, they requested the assistance of the firefighters using foam. The exterminators said the bees were the most aggressive they had ever encountered. Because of the large number of bees and their aggressiveness, members of the Hazmat Team, in encapsulated suits, advanced a 13?4-inch handline and foamed the hive. Within minutes, the situation was under control and the exterminators completed their work.

The man, who was stung several times, was treated and released from the hospital. It was later learned that the man tried to exterminate the bees himself. It is believed he used a stick to beat the fence and he was going to spray the bees with an aerosol bug agent as the bees flew out of the fence. But he did not know the aggressiveness of Africanized honey bees and within seconds they overwhelmed him. With his head covered with bees, he ran to a neighbor’s house for help.

The neighbor opened the door for only a few seconds, but that was long enough for bees to be released into the house. The neighbor pushed the man back outside and he began to run down the street, yelling for help. A city public works employee in a truck witnessed the attack. He pulled up alongside the man and opened the door so he could get inside. Once he was inside, the driver parked the truck and went for help.

After the incident, a number of the dead bees were taken to the Nevada Department of Agriculture for examination. Once again, it was determined that the bees were Africanized.

In addition to these two incidents, Las Vegas firefighters have responded to numerous “citizen assist” calls of bee sightings and to assist local exterminators with destroying the bees at difficult locations.

Since the department has responded to a number of calls within the past year, they have learned the following:

1.

2. Try to keep the area calm and quiet. Noises further agitate the bees, especially lawnmowers and weed eaters. Alert neighbors of the situation. Keep traffic in the area to a minimum. Flashing lights and sirens also agitate the bees and should not be used in the area of a reported sighting.

3. The extermination of bees should be left to professional exterminators. Fire personnel should only be used in emergency situations, with life-safety concerns.

4. A soupy foam solution (either Class A or AFFF) kills the bees almost immediately. The foam will stick to their bodies, making it difficult for them to fly and it drowns them immediately.

5. Only a minimum number of personnel should to be in the immediate area. When apparatus is not in use, their motors should be shut down.