Florida Firefighters Take New Measures Against 'Killer Bees'

Posted: 01-15-2008
Updated: 01-16-2008 09:48:07 AM

Story by wftv.com


Concerns over killer bees have one county putting new measures in place after several recent attacks. Firefighters call it a dangerous situation.

Eyewitness News found out Tuesday, in just the last year, there have been at least six incidents involving possible Africanized killer bees in Osceola County. The most recent encounter was at Kissimmee's airport.

Every firefighter now has hoods they're called sting shields and it's what they will wear if they have to rescue someone who has been caught in a swarm. Just last week, they had to go to the Kissimmee Airport because a pilot's helicopter was surrounded by bees.

The folks at Kissimmee's airport are used to things buzzing around, but not quite like this.

"I've never seen a swarm of bees around a helicopter before," said airport worker Joe Cashen.

On Thursday, a helicopter on stand-by to carry a donated heart had trouble touching down because it was being followed by aggressive bees and the pilot was afraid to get out.

"When he landed, there was probably about 1,000 bees or so surrounding the helicopter," Cashen said.

While a sample of the bees is being tested, Osceola firefighters have had five confirmed encounters with Africanized bees since last year. They look the same as traditional European bees, but are much more dangerous.

"It's just the fact that, by nature, they become very defensive of the hive and you are able to get stung many more times than you would disturbing a European honey hive," said Lt. Joan Robinson, Kissimmee Fire Department.

If you upset a European hive, 200 insects might fly out. Disturb an African one and up to 50,000 bees might attack.

Firefighters have been given hoods to protect them when responding to a bee attack. They also have recently received new training.

"Well, we are gonna respond, lights and sirens, but when we get close to the area, we are gonna turn off our lights because they can be an attractor for the bees," Robinson explained.

It was the lights on that helicopter that attracted the bees at the Kissimmee Airport. Once the pilot turned them off, the insects flew away.

"He got out. He was fine. He was a little nervous. He didn't want to get out and get stung by 500 bees. I can't blame. I wouldn't get out either," Cashen said.

The bees are still being tested from the airport. The Africanized bees have slightly larger wings that can be determined by looking through a microscope.

If firefighters have to rescue a victim attacked by bees, they would spray the person with foam rather than water, because the foam suffocates the insects.

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