Brea firefighters are set to suit up for the first time this summer against bee swarms--domestic or otherwise.
The city has approved spending $4,800 on 60 beekeeping suits for its firefighters and paramedics. The mesh hoods, heavy white cloth and thick gloves will enable firefighters to battle bees without fear of getting stung.
Brea Fire Chief Alford Nero said the department has been pricing bee protection suits ever since a woman was killed by so-called killer bees in Long Beach last year. The need took on new urgency last week when a bee swarm trapped a Placentia police officer in his patrol car. And in Fullerton this month, a swarm of domestic bees killed a dog and attacked two firefighters and an exterminator.
Nero said he's concerned that Brea is at risk for similar attacks, given that the city backs up to open hillsides and hundreds of acres of state and regional parks.
The department has been reviewing techniques used by the Long Beach and San Diego fire departments. Once Brea's suits arrive next month, firefighters will practice how to neutralize and remove live bees, Nero said.
Nick Nisson, an entomologist with the Orange County Agricultural Commission, said summer and fall are the seasons when Africanized honey bees, or killer bees, gather in swarms to search for new places to build colonies. Domestic bees tend to swarm in spring.
Both varieties look for hollow places such as rotting trees, cracked walls and even overturned pots--any place that is protected from the sun and rain and has a main opening that can be easily defended, he said.
Nisson noted that domestic European honeybees are close cousins to the more aggressive Africanized variety. "Really, they're just another race. They can interbreed," he said.
Orange County was declared colonized by Africanized honey bees in 1999, after scientists discovered the area was within the mating range of an Africanized bee colony in Fairfield, near San Francisco, and another near San Diego.
At that point, the county stopped keeping tabs on exactly where the bees were.
"There's no program to detect Africanized honeybees anymore," Nisson said. "Once an area is declared colonized, there aren't any more detection programs."