Welcome back into the chamber of hoarders. After some time away we are back and well into summer preparing emergency responders to face the challenges of compulsive hoarding disorder environments. This week we are going to look back at a training topic that we have visited before, with a new twist. It is vitally important to allow firefighters to communicate their findings on each response; this is even truer when faced with massive amounts of clutter found inside hoarder homes. From pulling on scene to making a interior attack, each and every firefighter should be taught what to say, who to say it too, and how to say it when a hoarding environment is suspected. Example, “ interior to command we are experiencing Heavy Content”, “command received.” Often this is where this line of communication ends, not allowing incoming units or firefighters that didn’t receive this message aware of the potential for danger. It’s time for us to change how we process, receive, and announce situations.
Being the eyes and ears of the responders is a role that each firefighter should be given. Constantly scanning, evaluating, and searching for potential dangers should be trained on until they become automatic. During this training is where we should introduce them to cues and clues that a hoarding situation is present.
Here are a few:
- Blocked doors and Windows
- Cluttered yards or Porches
- Cars Full of Belongings
If you encounter any of these situations a message should be transmitted to command. Announcing the presence of hoarding conditions will put everyone in a more defensive mindset and allow the commander to call for additional resources. Extra manpower, more apparatus, and needed rehab sector are all areas that need reinforced when dealing with hoarder conditions. If the IC doesn’t know they need them, why would they call for them? Make the call, even if you are wrong. If they are not needed they can be released and returned to service.
Being in command of a fire when the announcement of heavy contents is made requires some direct actions. First action is to communicate the findings to the dispatch center to share the message with everyone responding and on scene. Second action is to call for more help. With hoarding conditions firefighters air consumption will be greater, thus lowering their work time and will need a longer rehab period because of the stresses placed on them while working in these overloaded spaces. Knowing this a commander should request additional units to respond to the scene. Third action should be a second rapid intervention team. If a firefighter is inside and experiences a Mayday, it will require a larger number of firefighters to access and remove them.
A good rule of thumb for any commander is the rule of doubles. If you discover hoarding double the number of firefighters, RIT team members, and double the rehab time allowing your firefighters to adequately recover from the larger workload. The worst thing that you could do is place your firefighters into a stressful environment and not allow them time to recover before going back.
If you see something, say something!
If you hear something, Dispatch Something!
If you allow your firefighters to make the announcement of a potential hoarding situation it will allow all commanders to use the rule of doubles and call for the help needed. Hoarding can place us all at a greater risk do to the compression of belongings that has taken years to accumulate. Make the adjustments if you are faced with these conditions and make sure we all go home!