It was a beautiful sunshiny day, the second of July, and we were getting ready for a busy Independence Day. No fire department ever looks forward to the inevitable fires and domestic situations that happen on any holiday, but especially so on those that combine explosives with alcohol and barbecues. This year it wouldn’t be the things that go boom that would make my life a nightmare, but things that go buzz.
The journey started with my 13-year-old son approaching my wife and me to tell us there were a couple of bees in his room and more coming in. I asked him exactly how many he thought he saw, and he said about a dozen. Intrigued because he isn’t one to ask for help often, I went to his room to investigate. Would there be a wasp nest on his windowsill? Maybe some spilled sugar that attracted the bees?
I opened the door to his room, and we entered to discover at least 20 bees flying around one of the windows. I grabbed the nearest magazine and went on a murderous rampage. I probably killed a dozen before stopping to assess my progress…and I found more bees in the room than I started with. I looked at the deceased and saw they were honeybees, not wasps. Early career memories of Africanized killer bee swarm responses filled my mind, so we abandoned the room and shut the door in our retreat. I needed a better assessment, so I went outside to get the view from there.
It was worse.
There were at least 100 bees around the south-facing window to his room. They were entering and exiting the cracked-open window with ease. Then I noticed they were also entering one of the soffits around his window. This was beyond my abilities, so we jumped on social media for suggestions. One person volunteered to help us come up with a plan, but he couldn’t make it until the following day. He’d come first thing in the morning, so we blocked the bottom of the door with a blanket so nothing would come out of that room into the rest of the house.
At sunrise the following morning, the bee wrangler was at our house and had no good news at all: It was a swarm, and they were there to stay. We identified where they were settling in, and he estimated that in the two days about 1,000–2,000 bees had moved in. We spent the third of July setting up a trap to catch the bees and soothing them with some smoke and bad dad jokes. On the fourth the wrangler was able to remove the soffit and pull a handful of bees out and into a trap. He hoped the queen was in the batch he collected, because he couldn’t see one inside, and he assured us the entire swarm would move to her if she was in the trap. Then we left them for one last day. By noon on July 5, every single bee had evacuated our home.
The bee wrangler ended up collecting around 5,000 bees that had moved in with this swarm. I didn’t get so much as an ounce of honey, because they hadn’t had time to establish anything, but I had a safe home.
The correlation to a stationhouse was unavoidable too.
When negativity comes into the house, you likely won’t be aware of it right away, because it doesn’t start in your room. Instead, your first awareness will be when someone brings it to your knowledge. Your job is to be the parent that protects his family, so you must determine what’s going wrong. It may start with monsters under the bed and end, as in this case, with with monsters above their head, but that’s our job as parents.
Once you are aware of it, you must get a full assessment of how big the problem is. Like every other scene we’re on, that will require a 360-degree view and equally open eyes and mind. You need to know your limits and be willing to call on an outside expert when one’s needed. Knowing whom to contact isn’t as critical as knowing how to contact them, so always keep your Rolodex updated. Call for help early; it doesn’t matter what the obstacles or challenges are—your family is worth it.
When negativity comes into the firehouse, it spreads rapidly if left unchecked. Checking it isn’t just the job of the officers and chiefs but every responder under the roof. A leader’s job, when it gets to their level, is to know when something is coming in that doesn’t belong in the house and find out how to prevent it, calling for help if it’s beyond their training and expertise.
Just like every other event that has a significant impact on you and your home, do a postincident evaluation as well. Find out what you can do to prevent the problem in the future and be prepared for the next time if it recurs.
Negativity never belongs in any house or family. There is no honey in that nest—only rot, waste, and a lot of pain. Focus on the positives and deal with the negatives immediately, before it’s too late to save the house.
Christian Hartley is fire chief for the city of Houston, Alaska. He is a second-generation responder who has worked in EMS, corrections, and the fire service since 1999.