'They just kept coming:' How a Kamloops school handled a swarming wasp attack on students - InfoNews

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'They just kept coming:' How a Kamloops school handled a swarming wasp attack on students

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September 28, 2018 - 6:30 PM

'IN MY 25 YEARS, I'VE NEVER SEEN A SWARM OF WASPS AND I HOPE I NEVER HAVE TO AGAIN.'

KAMLOOPS - It was a mild, autumn morning in Kamloops yesterday, ideal weather for an annual Canadian tradition of the Terry Fox Run.

Things started out pretty normal at Dufferin Elementary School the morning of Sept. 27. Most of the 215 students headed out for the run – a route they had become familiar with in practicing before the race.

At roughly 11:30 a.m., Dufferin Elementary principal Colleen Topolovec decided to head inside back to her office. It was the tail end of the race and kids were already starting to complete the route. Her office is by the main entrance, and it wasn’t long before a couple of kids came in complaining of wasp stings. Slowly but surely, more children poured into the building.

“There were tons of them, and they just kept coming in,” Topolovec says. “Within a couple of minutes we realized we were outnumbered. So many kids still had wasps on them.”

It was a confusing and overwhelming emergency for staff and students. Eventually officials would learn that a swarm of wasps were disturbed by their nest on one of the trails, likely by a runner who didn’t realize they had stepped on it or kicked it.

That disturbance caused the swarm to fly toward the back of the crowd and begin attacking students, eventually stinging 135 of them.

“It was obviously a bit overwhelming for staff, my staff was amazing,” Topolovec says. “Students were expectedly scared, lots of them crying, but also lots of them helping their friends… I was absolutely amazed at the number of kids who stopped to help their peers. There’s a lot of tough kids out there.”

Although help had been called, the elementary school staff knew they needed to act fast. They basically triaged the children into two groups – those who were stung and those who weren’t.

Staff members worked through their lunch breaks, ensuring all hands were on deck to help the affected students. At least a couple of students do have anaphylactic reactions to wasp stings, Topolovec says, but none of them were stung in the process.

B.C. Ambulance, Kamloops Search and Rescue, Kamloops Fire Rescue, and officials with the City of Kamloops attended the school yesterday but luckily all students are recovering from their stings. The City also made sure to check the trails and spray them down so nothing like this happens again, Topolovec says.

“We just all took a part and everybody decided who’s got what,” she says. “These are things we talk about in earthquake drills and in lockdown drills. Maybe elements of that were helpful.”

There's no drill for when a swarm of wasps attack more than 100 students, but Topolovec says emergency drills of all sorts helped teach staff what their role is and how to execute it in a high-pressure emergency situation. For example, the secretary of the school and other staff members immediately began calling parents, something that would typically happen in any other emergency.

Topolovec says the school has received incredible support from parents and the community, with some people even dropping off flowers at the school today. Although there are always things that can be learned, Topolovec says she’s “amazed” at how staff and students dealt with yesterday’s bizarre incident.

“I’m sure there are things that could be tightened up but it went so smoothly. Sometimes we take the drills and the practices we do for granted… so the lesson I’ve learned is yeah, we do (need to do the drills),” Topolovec says. “I absolutely hope that this is the one and only (time). I’m not a number one fan of bees for sure, so fingers crossed.

“In my 25 years I’ve never seen a swarm of wasps and I hope I never have to again.”


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