In 1987, during my first summer of pest control, I set out to tackle my first-ever bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) nest. My 18-year-old self would be treating sans personal protective equipment (PPE), because my dad, Pete Sr., didn’t believe in wearing it. He was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army, so he was old-school and hard-core.
I loaded up my 40-foot ladder, bulb duster and 1-foot copper extension, and jumped in my truck. As I was driving out of the parking lot, Dad gave me some advice: “Stick the extension in the main hole on the nest, give the bulb duster a firm squeeze, and then get the heck out of there.”
He added, “Don’t admire your handiwork. Just leave.”
As I approached the customer’s barn, I could see the nest at the peak. It was over 30 feet up
and huge. But I was young and dumb, and with Dad’s advice echoing in my head, I began to climb the ladder.
When I reached the nest, a couple of hornets greeted me by buzzing my head. Otherwise, my ascent was pretty uneventful. I shook my bulb duster, enjoying the familiar rattle inside (I always put two pennies in my bulb duster to sift the powder). I jabbed the foot-long extension into the hornet nest and let it rip!
Despite Dad’s warning about not admiring my handiwork, I tried looking inside the nest because nothing was happening. So, I blasted it again. As I pulled out my duster, the nest started to vibrate. It was almost like watching a cartoon as they started flying out of the nest, most of them gray from the dust. I was mesmerized — and that was my downfall.
The first sting on my arm woke me up out of the trance. The second sting made me aware that I was a complete fool and in deep trouble.
Luckily, I realized I was 30 feet up in the air, and slowly started to climb back down the ladder. Two stings later, I said an equivalent of “forget this” and did a fireman slide down the ladder (wrapped my feet around the ladder’s frame and slid). It sounded like hail falling on my baseball cap, there were so many hornets dive-bombing me.
I hit the ground hard, rolled to my right side and sprinted to the truck on two sprained ankles. Even in my truck, the hornets were bouncing off of my windshield.
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
I commemorate that day by hosting the annual “Schopen Pest Solutions Wasp Dead Pool.” The Dead Pool is to promote safety, and to have some fun with my staff. Individually, we pick the first person we think will get stung that summer. During our April End-of-the-Month Training meeting, I hand out sheets with every employee’s name on the list. I give odds on who I think will get stung first. Techs, billing people, sales staff, customer service representatives (CSRs), managers are all on the list. I’m on there, too. Whether people get stung on the job or at home matters not. The only thing that is important is who gets stung first.
The rules are simple. More than one person can pick the same unlucky individual, but you cannot pick yourself. Whatever the odds are for the person who gets stung first is the cash value of the gift card that I will present to the winner(s) at our next company meeting.
For example, my wife, Tami, is 100-1 odds. Yes, even the Queen is fair game. If she gets stung before everyone else, everyone who picked her name gets a $100 gift card.
By contrast, Bradley’s odds are 20-1. That’s because he’s a new technician, and I expect him to get stung this summer. The payoff for him is just $20, but on the other hand, the chance of him getting nailed first is pretty high.
Believe it or not, this is a great way to promote wearing PPE. None of the techs wants to get stung, but sometimes they get in a hurry and don’t put on their bee suits. Because nobody wants to be the first summertime victim, though, they are very good about putting on their equipment.
EXTRA PRECAUTIONS TO CONSIDER
Bee suits aren’t the only way to stay safe on the job, of course:
- Lay off the cologne or perfume. There are conflicting studies on whether this is a real threat, but why announce your presence?
- Wear chemical-resistant gloves. If you are still using dust for yellowjacket jobs, they can smell the product and will follow the trail back to your hands.
- Some PPE is better than none. A half-bee suit is just the top, with a very comfortable mask and hoodie. I still advise wearing thick gloves. But even a face shield, gloves and coveralls can do the trick.
If you have any questions about our Wasp Dead Pool, feel free to call me or shoot me an email. Remember, it is for fun. No gambling is taking place, because I am picking the odds and handing out the prizes. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your craziest stinging insect story. I’d love to hear from you.
Schopen’s Open Book
Start-up: Schopen Pest Solutions Inc.
Headquarters: McHenry, Ill.
Founder: Peter F. Schopen Jr.
Start-up date: April 11, 2006
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 41 (38 full-time, 3 trainees)
2006 REVENUE: $97,235
2007 REVENUE: $172,495
2008 REVENUE: $203,732
2009 REVENUE: $243,427
2010 REVENUE: $325,960
2011 REVENUE: $425,847
2012 REVENUE: $489,887
2014 REVENUE: $687,326
2015 REVENUE: $858,180
2016 REVENUE: $1,079,068
2017 REVENUE: $1,478,600
2018 REVENUE: $1,877,496
2019 REVENUE: $2,095,118
2020 REVENUE: $2,398,367
2021 REVENUE: $3,295,259
2022 REVENUE TO-DATE: $1,014,179*
APRIL REVENUE: $270,437**
2022 GOAL: $4,119,344
*Up 21% from 2021.
**Down 2.5% from April 2021. However, we had a record April in 2021 and a cold, rainy April in 2022.
We were rescheduling clients every day.