Fire department 'bee whisperer' saves hot air balloon festival
Fire Maintenance Mechanic Jonathan Beale, who is also a professional beekeeper, coaxed approximately 16,000 bees away from the balloons
Kathy Leigh Berkowitz
The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.
LAKELAND, Fla. — As thousands of people turned out for the Up, Up and Away hot air balloon festival at Sun N' Fun during the weekend, a swarm of bees thought they would enjoy a bit of the buzz, as well.
A queen bee who was in route to another nesting place had stopped to rest on a cart that was being used to tether the hot air balloons Saturday, according to Lakeland Fire Department personnel.
Soon, the cart was loaded with thousands of bees, and the event was brought to a halt until a remedy could be found.
LFD Driver Engineers Troy Deines and Kawailani Kuikahi were told that some bystanders were trying to take matters into their own hands, which could have been catastrophic.
"There wouldn't have been enough EpiPens in all of Lakeland for that," he said.
But Deines and Kuikahi knew another Lakeland firefighter who might know what to do. Fire Maintenance Mechanic Jonathan Beale moonlights as a professional beekeeper and maker of bee-based products in his off time.
Beale was just down the road taking care of his hives when he got the call.
"Troy called me, and I said don't touch them, I am on my way," he said.
When he arrived, he saw about 4 pounds of bees gathered around their queen. There are about 4,000 bees for every pound, he said, meaning a total of about 16,000 bees.
He put a little lemon grass in one of his bee boxes, a portable bee hive, and soon they all gathered inside the box.
Beale said the queen and her scouts were going to a spot that the scout bees had picked out.
"The native queen leaves first and flies low, not high," he said. "They stopped there to let her rest. They are very amazing little insects, really smart."
The treasurer of the Ridge Beekeeper Association, Beale said he got into the bee business by accompanying his dad to one of the beekeeper seminars.
At first, he said he kept his distance, then fell in love with the process. He said there's a misconception about bees wanting to sting people. They are defensive, not offensive, much like how a person would handle an unwelcome home intruder.
"If an intruder enters your house, they are going to get shot," he said.
His advice to anyone who comes upon a bee swarm is to not swat at them.
"They will not sting you. They have no brood. They are not going to die for nothing, unless you hurt the individual bee," he said. "They are going to protect their hives."
This is the time of the year, he said, when bees swarm.
"A while back ago, an elderly lady went to her shed and they went after her," he said, adding that they had to spray the bees to chill them, as southern bees do not function well in cold weather.
Beale manages about 60 hives, he said.
The hot air balloon festival was able to get back to its festivities after Beale's intervention.
©2020 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.)