from The Arizona Republic

Worker stung 700 times
Electrician, colleague stung in bee attack

August 20, 1998

By Jim Walsh The Arizona Republic

Some people fear heights. Some fear swarms of stinging insects. A Mesa electrician confronted both Wednesday atop a 120-foot-tall water tower when a swarm of angry bees stung him more than 700 times.

The electrician and a fellow worker were able to escape the attack by climbing down the tower's ladder.

"I would have jumped," said Mesa Fire Department paramedic Casey Pursley, who treated Ken Truman, an electrician at Williams Gateway Airport.

All of Truman's exposed skin - his face, neck, arms and part of his chest - was covered with bee stings, firefighters said.

Truman was taken to Valley Lutheran Hospital in fair condition, according to firefighters.

"He was talking to us, but he was in extreme pain," Pursley said.

Firefighters administered an anti-inflammatory drug to help keep Truman's airway open because his breathing was labored, he said.

The East Valley's second bee attack this month was set up by two consecutive days of insecticide spraying at the top of the tower, said Mary Baldwin, the airport's director of marketing.

Truman and an assistant were preparing to change a beacon light that had burned out, and they were concerned about bees because of past encounters.

The spraying was apparently a bad idea, according to Susan Cote of SRB Beekeepers.

"These bees have been agitated for a couple of days," she said. "Think of how you'd feel if someone tried to fumigate you out of your home. These bees are already on the defense."

Truman and a second worker climbed the tower's ladder together, as required by airport policy.

Truman's job was to change the beacon light, while the second man's job was to spray the bees if necessary.

But although the bee worker was somewhat protected by a hazardous-materials suit and helmet, the electrician had no protection.

Baldwin was not certain why one man was protected while the other was not.

"I don't know, except to say they thought they had it taken care of," she said.

The man with the protective gear, who was not identified by airport authorities because family members could not be reached, was stung 20 to 30 times.

After the attack, the second worker helped Truman down the ladder and then sprayed him with water to ward off the bees, said Fire Captain Ivard Brimley, who also was stung at least once.

He said the beehive was in a metal box below the beacon light.

Firefighters called Valley Bee Control after the attack. A beekeeper was hoisted by a fire truck to the top of the water tower late Wednesday afternoon to combat the swarming bees.

Bob Chapman of Valley Bee Control, a beekeeper for 40 years, said any type of bee will become aggressive if its home is threatened.

"They're not aggressive until they have something to protect," he said. "As long as you don't mess with the hives, you're all right."

Wednesday's incident was similar in some ways to an Aug. 3 attack in Dobson Ranch in southwest Mesa.

Chisha Chang, 88, was stung more than 150 times as he attempted to remove a beehive from a barbecue grill in his back yard.

Chang survived the attack but was hospitalized.

Cote said her company concluded that the bees involved in the Dobson Ranch attack were an everyday European strain.

When told Truman was stung 700 to 1,000 times, Chapman said it is very likely that these bees are Africanized.

Although it is human instinct to swat bees, that's one of the worst things someone can do, he said.

"The public needs to know how to treat bees now more than they used to," Chapman said. "Leave them alone."

Copyright 1998, The Arizona Republic

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