MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester District Fire Chief Al Poulin says he’s never had a call quite like the one that came in Thursday. It all started with a routine tree maintenance job in progress by city workers on Beech Street – damage control after the storm – and an angry swarm of bees defending their home.
“I’ve had bee calls before, usually where someone steps on a nest or something. But I’ve never gotten one for six patients at once, and one of them stung hundreds of times,” Poulin says, recapping the drama that unfolded at about 10 a.m. on July 19.
Workers from the city Parks and Rec department were working on clearing a tree damaged by the storm when the worker in a bucket truck cut into a bee hive nestled deep inside the tree trunk. He didn’t see it coming, Poulin says – no sign of bees before the work began.
“He got stung several hundred times all over his face, hands and neck. He was strapped into the bucket truck and couldn’t free himself as he was fighting off the bees,” says Poulin.
Fortunately for that worker, a neighbor from 119 North St. was outside watching the tree being cut down and called for her husband when she realized what was happening to the worker.
“That man – and we didn’t get his name yet – he ran out and assisted the guy stuck in the bucket. Another worker was already trying to get his partner out of the bucket, and this man, he’s a 62-year-old man, he suffered 20 bee stings to his arms, neck and face,” Poulin says. “If not for that neighbor coming over and helping him, the worker might have been in worse shape – it could have even been life-threatening. We’re lucky nobody went into anaphylactic shock.”
The neighbor was taken to the VA Hospital by his wife, where he was being kept for observation.
The city worker, who was rushed to Elliot Hospital, was stable, according to Poulin. Medical staff had already removed 100 stingers from his body, and counting.
City Parks Director Don Pinard lauded the heroics of the neighbor, who he credits with saving his employee’s life.
“From what I’ve been told by the doctors, he’s lucky to be alive,” Pinard says.
He explained that the 50-foot oak tree had been damaged by Tuesday’s rain and wind storm. Crews had been sent out after the storm to remove limbs that fell onto cars on Beech Street, and returned Thursday to take down the tree, which was dying and considered hazardous.
Dealing with nature and wildlife is all in a day’s work for city crews, but this was something extraordinary, says Pinard.
“Our tree crew probably has one of the most dangerous jobs we have here. There are plenty of hazards for DPW and Parks workers, but our tree crew especially encounters dangers every day,” Pinard says. “I don’t know if this is a freak thing, but I haven’t seen anything like this happen in the four years I’ve been in charge.”
The worker has been employed with the city for at least 20 years, says Pinard. He did not released the worker’s name, but said it looks like he actually cut through the hive with thousands of bees in, which is why they swarmed.
“He was 25-feet in the air, and had already cut through the canopy of this tree and saw no outward sign of bees. There are always bees around, and crews sometimes get stung here or there, but nothing like this. The pest control company should get a shout out – they got there quickly and helped us contain a bad situation,” says Pinard.
“It could have been much worse, but thanks to the quick thinking by a lot of people – city workers, EMTs, and especially the good Samaritan who came to his rescue. I don’t have his name yet, but I think he helped save his life. He deserves more than a shout out; he deserves to be recognized in any way a person can be recognized for good deeds.”
Poulin was the one who had to decide how to proceed with the angry bees – their menacing swarm spanned out over 100 feet across the neighborhood at one point, Poulin says
“I had to make a decision. We tried contacting a beekeeper, but we also made contact with an exterminator through Parks and Rec – 603 Pest Control – and we made the decision to exterminate the bees to avoid any further danger to the public. Then we removed the hive from the tree, transported it with the bucket truck to be buried,” Poulin says. “They did a professional job. We talked about our alternatives, but because of the hazard to public with the swarming bees, we used chemical spray to exterminate them. We had a lot of onlookers and I didn’t want anyone else getting stung or going into shock.”
In addition to the city worker and the neighbor who ran to his aid, also stung was a resident of Beech Street, who heard the commotion and came outside. She was stung around her neck, as were her two adult sons, who came to her aid, Poulin says.