Emergency workers are being trained to deal with Africanized honeybees as they begin to spread northward in Arkansas from the southwestern corner of the state.
The presence of the bees — known popularly as "killer bees," but not nearly as deadly as that name implies — was confirmed in Miller and Lafayette counties last April, but the state Plant Board considers nine more counties along the southern and western border to be at risk as well.
On Saturday, nearly 50 emergency workers from 10 Arkansas jurisdictions gathered at Lake Hamilton to learn more about the emerging threat. According to the Plant Board the bees are much more aggressive than the common European honeybee.
The stings are similar, but the invading bees are quicker to perceive a threat and, when they do, to pursue in larger numbers, chasing a victim up to a half-mile. The bees also remain agitated for an hour or more after an attack.
"We figure when the bees get here, we're going to encounter them sooner or later," said Lake Hamilton Fire Department Assistant Chief Matt Simpson, who coordinated the Saturday training.
First responders from the Lake Hamilton fire squad, Jacksonville, Leola, Bismarck, Morning Star, the 70 West Fire Department, Pearcy, Malvern, Monticello and Hot Springs attended the training session, which was run by Miller County.
Derrell Reynolds, who was stung by one of the bees and is deputy coordinator of the Miller County Emergency Management Agency, said workers have found that unscented Dawn dishwashing detergent has been the most effective spray to knock out a bee swarm.
The Miller County Fire Department regularly responded to two or three beehive reports a week last spring. If a beehive is reported, firefighters said they have someone from the Plant Board gather a sample, for testing because the Africanized bees look very similar to European-strain honeybees.
Only if the test is positive will the hive be removed.
Lake Hamilton Fire Department Lt. Herb Watts said he hadn't even heard about the bee threat until the training session.
"I was curious how we would be able to gain access to a victim being stung by bees," he said. "That's something I have learned. If we get (infested) in this area, we're going to have to do this type of rescue."