Calif. FFs attacked by bees during rescue attempt

A swarm of bees forced Fountain Valley first responders to call for backup after they were stung attempting to rescue several people from a swarm of the insects


Eric Licas
The Orange County Register

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — Firefighters attempted to rescue several people from a swarm of bees in Fountain Valley, but were also attacked by the insects and had to call for backup before two two badly stung patients could be taken to a hospital Tuesday, June 22.

Santa Ana resident John Madrid told a videographer that he, his girlfriend and his best friend were planning to eat at Sizzler at 16373 S. Harbor Boulevard. They pulled into the restaurant's parking lot at about 3 p.m., and were surrounded by the buzzing insects as soon as they stepped out of their car.

First responders tried to reach three people, but were also overrun by bees, Fountain Valley Fire Division Chief Bill McQuaid said. A second team was summoned to spray firefighting foam to repel the swarming insects while people in nearby businesses were told to take shelter indoors.
First responders tried to reach three people, but were also overrun by bees, Fountain Valley Fire Division Chief Bill McQuaid said. A second team was summoned to spray firefighting foam to repel the swarming insects while people in nearby businesses were told to take shelter indoors. (Photo/Getty Images)

"We parked. I got out. There's a few bees and I swiped a couple, and then there's 15," Madrid said. "I started running like crazy, and they attacked my best friend and girlfriend."

The three of them scrambled, Madrid said. He wound up stung, but not nearly as bad as the other two people he was with.

"My buddy's 315 pounds, big man, strong guy," Madrid said. "And he's crying like a baby: 'help me John!'"

At some point, Madrid managed to reach his girlfriend. He said he removed about 15 bees that had crawled into her hair. He was pulling stingers out of her neck before firefighters arrived just a few minutes later.

First responders tried to reach Madrid and his companions, but were also overrun by bees, Fountain Valley Fire Division Chief Bill McQuaid said. A second team was summoned to spray firefighting foam to repel the swarming insects while people in nearby businesses were told to take shelter indoors.

Two badly stung people were hospitalized, McQuaid said. Details regarding the severity of their injuries were not immediately released.

The majority of the bees were "contained" as of Tuesday evening, McQuaid said. Professional bee removers were called to deal with any still remaining in the parking lot. The area was safe as of 7 p.m., McQuaid said.

Bee swarms happen when a hive becomes either overpopulated or too hot for bees to live in, said Sean Crowley a commercial beekeeper based in northern Orange County and a member of the Orange County Beekeepers Association. The insects are typically in their most docile state when they swarm, because they do not have a home, food or larvae to protect.

"The worst thing you can do is to start swatting at everything you see," Crowley said. "It puts them on the defensive, and once one of the bees stings you, you're marked with an alarm pheromone that signals you as a threat."

People who get stung are unlikely to outrun a swarm because bees can fly up to 15 mph. If people do encounter bees gathered outside of a hive, the best course of action is to slink away quickly without alarming them, Crowley said. Once a safe distance has been reached, professional beekeepers should be called in to relocate the swarm.

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(c)2021 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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