By Henry A. Stephens
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
One front-end loader operator Tuesday had reason to be grateful for his cell phone, his air-conditioned cab and county firefighters after he stumbled into an underground bee hive.
"There were about 2,000 to 3,000 bees," said Battalion Chief Dan Dietz with the county Fire Rescue Division. "They were everywhere, on all four glasses sides (of the cab) and on the roof. ...They were definitely in a mass and definitely aggravated."
The man, whose name was not released because of medical confidentiality, only escaped injury because the cab was closed off from the outside and air-conditioned, Dietz said.
And now authorities want to know whether the bees were of the aggressive Africanized variety, commonly known as "killer bees," or of the more familiar and less aggressive European honeybee stock.
Firefighters submitted 15 "excellent specimens" to the county Agricultural Extension Office for testing to determine what type of bees they are, said Violet Krochmalny, a staff assistant with the agency.
She said the two kinds of bees can only be told apart by experts. She said the agency is relaying them to the Florida Division of Plant Industry's bee laboratory in Gainesville and expects results in a couple of weeks.
Dietz said the man was clearing a former grove on the southwest corner of Oslo Road at Interstate 95 about noon Tuesday when somehow he broke into an underground hive.
He said the man used his cell phone to call 911 and continued communicating with firefighters as they worked out the rescue.
Wearing protective "bee hoods," firefighters had the man drive the loader away from the hive and then covered it with the same kind of foam they use to attack spills of hazardous liquids, Assistant Chief Brian Nolan said.
The foam brought flying bees down and trapped those on the cab where they were, he said, after which the man was able to leave the loader and was checked out in the fire engine.
"And there wasn't a single sting," Nolan said.
This worker is very fortunate to have had an air conditioned cab on the front end loader and to have had the presence of mind to stay inside the cab. Heavy equipment is particularly prone to stimulating stinging insect defense response, because it's often loud, causing plenty of vibration and emits exhaust fumes. --Richard Martyniak, Oct. 17, 2007