Don't become trapped in the Hoard!

Don't become trapped in the Hoard!

Trapped in the Hoard 

Without a doubt the number one concern of teaching firefighters about fires that occur in hoarding conditions is the potential of firefighters becoming trapped inside. While this potential is present on any type of fire, hoarding presents additional challenges.  Understanding the potential for trouble should ensure all firefighters are visiting self rescue, lost orientation, and entanglement training monthly.  Let’s face it, many of us will be lucky to review and practice these procedures yearly if at all. Let’s take a look at three processes you can review to prepare yourself. b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2371.JPG

Hoarding Concerns

As a persons home becomes full with belongings the amount of usable space is severely restricted. With this collection the potential for firefighters becoming lost inside increases. From day one most firefighters are taught orientation based on contact with a wall.  Household clutter that extends well beyond arms length from the wall is common in the hoarding conditions.  Firefighters who do not make adjustments for this danger can find themselves disoriented in a labyrinth of belongings, usually that have no secondary means of egress.  

How can this happen? Does the firefighter not see the junk?  Great questions, but there can be many factors that contribute to firefighters not seeing or suspecting clutter.  One factor is where the home is located. If inside a municipal district there may be no visible clutter from the exterior.  These hidden heavy content homes may not indicate clutter until entry. Secondly, the first room of entry my be free from clutter. In hoarding conditions not all rooms are completely packed full, there can be varying levels of stored items.  If the room of entry is open the firefighter may assume the rest of the building is the same way. 

Don’t waste time

Many firefighters ask how long they should wait before calling a mayday.  In hoarding situations the time to call should be reduced. Why, because the length of time to rescue will be increased.  If  firefighters were to find themselves in the middle of clutter without means of orientation this is a true emergency. The amount of time before declaration of the mayday should be short.  

Ideally the lost firefighter will have a search rope, TIC, and/or a hose line for orientation. If none of the potential life savers are present and you are disoriented call it……CALLL IT NOW!!  

Some firefighters feel if they call a mayday without being in true life or death danger they can be ridiculed by other members once the fire is  out.  So what! At least you will be alive to take it. If you feel the need to search out secondary means of egress and/or a point for orientation without positively knowing the direction you can find yourself going towards bigger danger, especially if you choose to crawl over stacks of debris. In heavy content conditions that best path is inside the pre-made pathway established by the occupants.  

If a firefighter does not feel the need from a mayday declaration they should begin with radio communication to inform everyone of the situation and request information that can help them become reoriented to their location or establish secondary means of egress. These communications should be short and to the point. The longer it takes to establish location the more air the firefighters will be using and less time to make an escape. Establishing air consumption rates and understanding how to function in a high stress situation can aid in the reestablishing orientation. If firefighters have even a small amount of doubt, CALL THE MAYDAY. 

Entanglement Solutions 

Inside cluttered conditions firefighters will find a variety of entanglement dangers. From large collection of Christmas Lights to wire from dryer vents ran for ferrets to travel room to room these challenges may be some that firefighters had never even thought of.  

The most important variable in the entanglement equations is identification of there presence. Not crawling into a room with a collection of wires is the BEST solution to this problem.  Making this seemingly simple statement more complex is the density and thickness of the smoke.  Limited visibility can make this near impossible.  Using the Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC) offers firefighters the tool to identify these situation.  While scanning with the TIC firefighters should look for piles of wires, tubular shaped dryer style vents, multiple electric cords, and other challenges that can entangle them. 

If a firefighter is to become entangled they must revert to solid training.  Using techniques such as the swim move, grab and cut, are both options while remembering to not pull the entanglement tighter.  Both of these techniques are commonly found in firefighter training manuals and require more time that allowed in this short blog.  If you are not familiar with these techniques click Here and Here to watch short videos on managing entanglements. 

Clearing Debris b2ap3_thumbnail_Delta-Alpha-Corner.jpg

Whether before or after any firefighter emergency that happens inside a Heavy Content Environment will require the removal of debris. From simply moving a stack to the labor intensive task of moving massive piles clearing debris in a hostile environment comes with challenges.  

First and foremost, is the workload on the firefighters. If the work is being completed inside a smoke field environment air consumption will be increase. Lower actual working times will require more firefighters to be available to perform the task of moving the debris.  Key to knowing this problem is the identification of heavy content early in an operation to allow time for other firefighters to be on scene.  

Second, is the potential for added weight to cause a localized collapse. When clearing debris to reduce or prevent a mayday firefighters need to understand that moving the weight of a stack to lay on top of another stack could be enough added weight to cause a collapse.  

Example: Pile A has x amount of weight, while Pile B has x amount of weight.  These piles have added weight slowly over many days and weeks allowing for the structure to adjust.  Imagine if in a short amount of time the weight from pile A is put on top of pile B.  In a matter of minutes you could have double the actual weight of pile B. The weight added could stress that area of the structure enough to cause a local or complete collapse. 

It is important to understand this risk when working around the massive amounts of stuff inside a heavy content environment. When tasked with moving stacks of debris, whether for a mayday or not, firefighters should ensure the distribution of the weight is not piled in one central area that could already be near the collapse level.  Spreading the weight over a larger area will help reduce the chances of collapse danger. 

Ryan’s Advice 

Fighting structural fires will always bring an amount of risk with it.  When operating inside homes filled with massive amounts of content the risk will be higher.  Firefighters need to understand the sheer volume of physical risk required to accomplish even the most simple tasks. 

Prevention is the best advice for mayday situations. By using good situational awareness and common sense firefighters should manage the potential  mayday causing situations.  Use the pathways for transportation routes, keep the stacks in place, pay close attention to air consumption, and always suspect that adding more weight to an already weighted down building runs the risk of collapse.  

Actionable Items

1.Review your mayday radio transmission 

2.Ensure the purchase and upkeep of wire cutters

3.Review TIÇ use in identifying wires, cables, and other entanglement hazards

4.Practice swim technique

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Case Study Citizens Fire Company

Case Study Citizens Fire Company


Citizens Fire Company 

Independence Fire Company

February 3 2015


Developing the skills and education as a firefighter requires constant evaluation and learning from different sources. Learning from the experiences of others is a good way of learning from others successes and challenges.  This case study was graciously shared by the firefighters of the Citizens Fire Company in Charlestown WV. The transparency of their members in discussing this challenging fire was inspiring.  


The aim of this case study and accompanying audio interview is to share the lessons learned from this Heavy Content Fire to help other departments understand the challenges faced that day and how to better prepare for Heavy Content Fires.

Learning Activity 

Review the incident information and discuss the affects of Hoarding. Focus your efforts on how the clutter, confusion, and persistence of the on scene firefighters lead to a successful outcome in challenging conditions. Discuss how building construction, fire volume, cluttered conditions, and hazards can lead to danger. Listen, read, and then apply the lessons learned to your operational methods to have a better understanding. 

Case Audio


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It must be the Air: The Importance of Air in Heavy Content Fires

It must be the Air: The Importance of Air in Heavy Content Fires

As you look into the basic physics of fire there are three elements needed to support combustions (burning): heat, fuel, and oxygen. Out of the three elements needed, one of these has a heightened level of importance when you are fighting fires in heavy content conditions.

Would it be the heat? There is a noted presence of heat and it can be reduced. However,will you have the opportunity to remove enough of the heat, could you stop the burning process, so it's not heat. Consider the fuel, if the firefighters are able to remove the cluttered items from the burn area, would that extinguish the fire? If that process is ineffective then we know it is not fuel. That leaves air, it must be the air!

To understand the importance of air in the heavy content fires, consider structures that are loaded full of belongings from years of collecting and how they will provide endless amounts of fuel. In fact, many of these fires have enough fuel to burn for days. By considering fire tactics that eliminate heat and fuel and realizing how difficult they can be, it will allow the focus to fall directly on the available air. Air can have a huge influence on fire growth, but in hoarding conditions it most often is the variable that has the most influence. The amount of air available will determine if the fire will progress to decay or progress into the growth phase of a fire.

There are so many scenario's to consider in heavy content fire, but for the purpose of this article consider that there was a fire in a sealed basement or home that had fully functional windows and doors. In that situation, the amount of air could be minimal; depending on what doors might be open, the level of clutter, and the location of the fire. These variables could affect the how long a fire could burn without being discovered which would give the fire enough time to cause significant damage to floor and roof joists as well as floor decking. Add in the weight from the clutter and a pending collapse could be near, again all of this could happen before the fire is discovered.

Taking the time to study and understand theses variables will give firefighters a better knowledge of the added dangers posed by extreme clutter and prompt a more thorough size up. Being aware of these three variables when you arrive to a reported structural fire and seeing that the property has the external signs of hoarding (such as cluttered yards), officers need to investigate for signs of extended burn times. The best method would be to do a thermal imaging 360 size-up to discover the hottest parts of the structure while also indicating where the coldest area's are located, keeping in mind you are looking to see where the fire is presently and where it will go if you give it air.

Finding fires in the decay stage should raise suspicion of an extended burn time, while finding a fire well into the growth phase could indicate a ventilated fire. Both of these findings could indicate extended burn times. Just because the fire has progressed into the growth phase does not indicated shorter burn times. It indicates that the fire has found an air source.

If the fire is in this vent limited state firefighters should try to do everything possible to keep it that way. Leaving windows, doors, and stacks of clutter in place to limit the fresh air intake will allowing enough time for the appropriate staffing levels to arrive, limit fire spread, and keep the fire smaller. By limiting the air and fire growth it will make the conditions better for attack or rescue(If needed)

Without control of the air, loss of multiple windows or the inability to close doors, firefighters should set up for defensive operations that employ large caliber streams placed outside the collapse zone. Heavy Content conditions that are feed with large amounts of air will progress quickly. Often surpassing the GPM of standard sized handlines. If these variables are uncontrollable firefighters should assume the fire will continue to intensify even if handlines are in place.

Utilizing corners of the building to place apparatus, stream reach, and hose lengths will keep firefighters away from the dangers of collapse or overgrown trees. It will also give a area of refuge if the yard is full of clutter and the fire extends to that clutter. Fire extending to yard clutter can rapidly spread across the tops of the stacks as it will have all the air needs. Wind conditions can cause this horizontal spread to reach speeds faster than firefighters running in turnout gear. It is essential for firefighters to pay close attention if the fire extends into the yard and perform a quick retreat to prevent this potential disaster.

Controlling the air is essential when battling homes with unlimited amounts of fuel. Having control can allow for a rescue or interior push, while not having control is a indicator of defensive operation until enough water can be applied and/or air control can be established.

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Hoarder Fire Case Study Elyria Ohio

Hoarder Fire Case Study Elyria Ohio

Location: Elyria Ohio
Responding Agency: Elyria Fire Department
Event Date: January 18, 2015
Event Type: Working Structure fire with Victim Trapped Location: Skylark Court Elyria Ohio
Time:1600 Hours b2ap3_thumbnail_Elyria-Hoarder-Fire-North-Coast-now-.jpg

Approximately 1600 hours on January 18th the Elyria Ohio fire department was alerted to a house fire.  The initial dispatch was directed to an industrial area with a large warehouse structure and first arriving unit advised nothing showing. Updated dispatch information redirected the responding units to the correct address and also advised the responding chief of confirmed occupant trapped.  Dispatch also passed along information from the caller that the occupant was a “Hoarder”and they could see visible flames. 

Engine 3 arrived on scene with smoke showing throughout the structure with the heaviest amounts seen from division 2. Engine 3 chose and offensive posture with 1 3/4 sized line for primary search and fire control. Ladder 7 advised heaviest fire division 2 side c while chief 3 instructed them to ventilate vertically.  Rescue 31 directed for occupant search and rescue. Supply line was established by engine 4.  An unknown unit advised chief 3 of an awning that is compromised by fire with “a lot of trash underneath it”.  

Upon hearing that report Chief 3 ordered an emergency manpower recall.  Shortly thereafter Chief 3 was advised fire was extending to upper floors and roof.  A transitional attack was used after the discovery of fire extension the roof area.  Chief 3 then requests a MABAS box alarm assignment 1341 to respond and stand bye.  Second due company advised they were unavailable due to another assignment.  Chief 3 then advised the box would be sufficient without them and requested the fire prevention and training officer to the seen.  

Shortly after that transmission unknown member advised the chief of fire on side C “coming through the vent hole”.  At the 20 minute mark Chief 3 described their operation as a “marginal offensive attack”having difficulty making entry and are unable to locate the victim.  Chief 3 a then advised of heavy fire in the awning area again.  Additional units began to respond from the call back.  At the 40 minute mark Chief 3 announced that they were going defensive due to the amount of stuff inside. 

(The above information obtained from the command channel audio files. )

Operational functions Overview 

Initial alarm assignments chose and aggressive interior posture for search and fire control.  These crews were met with hoarding conditions with pathways as means of traveling between rooms.  There initial tactical objective was to search the upstairs of the home, where they believed the occupant was located.  What they found in the process of making entry to division 2 (the upstairs) is that it was full of belongings with no pathways.  Upon this realization the crews began to use VES procedures (vent, enter, search) to gain access to the rooms via outside windows. 

During this process firefighters had to remove multiple tress to gain access to the windows. They chose the oriented search as ways of positive location management, due to the walls being unusable for orientation.  

Firefighters also began to search on the first floor where one truck company captain described conditions changing from moderate to severe in a shorter than normal time period.  He also describe the stacks being so high at one point his “air pack was dragging the ceiling.”  With the combined efforts of fire control and search proving to be ineffective Chief 3 ordered all firefighters out of the building and into a defensive posture.  

Once out of the structure Chief 3 requested an excavator to the scene for building demolition and to search for the occupant.  They were able to locate the victim, under debris, on the first floor. The victim had the house so full of belongings that she could no longer use the second floor and had retreated to the first floor for day to day living. 

Overhaul and building demolition continued for hours and the aftermath is beyond words.  


The fire that occurred in Elyria Ohio is a remarkable case study of success. While the occupant was not saved the operations used sound fire ground practices and aggressive procedures to contain the fire and preform a search.  Risk versus reward was constantly used and communication was affective during the entire operation.  One of the biggest learning points from this particular fire is the incident commander and his control over the fire scene.  By effectively communicating with the operational firefighters everyone understood their assignments, performed accordingly, and came home safe.  Very few suggestions for improvement are seen from the operational standpoint, but more towards having a common reporting system that can lead to affective pre fire planning.  

Elyria Successes 
  • Dispatch advised crews of Hoarding Conditions
  • Strong Command presence 
  • Great communication from interior to command and back 
  • Interior crews minimized firefighters inside 
  • Basic Fire ground functions were assigned and performed 
  • Additional Firefighters called in quickly 
  • 20 Minute updates and reports given and used 
  • Constant updates from around the structure 
  • Defensive operations initiated in a timely fashion
  • Excavators called in 

  • Elyria Opportunities 


  • Initiate a Pre Plan Process (Building officials had visited homes multiple times)
  • Utilize Police, Fire, Ems, and utilities to locate and identify Hoarding Conditions
  • Initiate common terminology to describe conditions (Suggested “Heavy Content”)


Download the full report Below 




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Hoarding conditions made fire difficult to fight, official says




WRIGHTSVILLE, Pa. —Six adults and one a child are out of their home after fire through it Friday morning in Wrightsville, York County.The fire started in a basement laundry room around 4:30 a.m. at the home along the 500 block of Walnut Street between 5th and 6th streets. The homeowner told News 8 that he tried to fight the fire with an extinguisher, but the flames were too much. The state police fire marshal is investigating, but because damage is so extensive, the cause is not yet clear. Firefighters said the blaze was difficult to fight due to hoarding conditions in the basement.

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Cats killed in Hoarding Fire


Hoarding fire kills Cats in New Mexico 

Albuquerque firefighters say six cats died in a house fire Sunday morning. The incident happened around 11 a.m. on Alder Drive NW near Unser. The homeowner wasn't injured, but she did lose six of her cats. Another five were taken to the veterinarian. The Albuquerque Fire Department says the fire was contained to one room and extinguished quickly. But what they found inside the home appalled them. "This was a hoarding situation. Lots of garbage and feces on the ground this fire could've been much worse because of all that extra fuel in the house," said Larry Gallegos, Bernalillo County spokesperson. "You don't normally have that much fuel, papers and boxes stacked up so high. All of that is fuel for fire that's what makes it so dangerous." According to Bernalillo County Animal Care ordinance, in most cases, residents are not allowed to have more their four animals in their home without a permit. Albuquerque fire said two of her cats are still roaming the neighborhood. If you see them, call animal control at 311.

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Hoarding Interview with Battalion Chief David Brosnahan

Hoarding Interview with Battalion Chief David Brosnahan

In this audio Chamber of Hoarders Ryan Pennington interviews Battalion Chief David Brosnahan. David has taken suggestions learned from Hoarder Homes: Piles of Hazards for Firefighters presentation and apply them to his departments operation.

In this audio recording Ryan and David talk in detail about the Roseville's hoarding reporting system. Since it's inception Roseville's reporting system has identified 25 structures that exhibit some level of hoarding. Using this system on non fire situations allows crews to identify these buildings and begin to identify occupancy, access routes, structural stability, and stretch locations.

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Hoarder Near Miss in Baltimore City



 Baltimore City Near Miss Hoarder Fire 


Incident Information from

Date: January 8th, 2015
Time: 14:00 hours
City: Box 14-6
County: Baltimore City
Address: 500blk S Monroe Street
Type: Dwelling Fire


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Heavy Content: Not limited to Residential Homes

News from Eight firefighters were injured while battling a blaze at a Venice storage facility, which took over 14 hours to knockdown, fire department officials said Sunday. Over 200 firefighters had worked to extinguish a fire at the Extra Space Storage facility located in the 600 block of Venice Boulevard (map), which broke out around 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Of seven firefighters injured, five were treated for heat exhaustion, one sustained small burns and another had a back injury. Three were hospitalized and were “doing well,” Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Joseph Castro said.
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Hoarding Fire New Jersey


Tuesday, October 14, 2014 05:39PM

A firefighter was injured in a two-alarm fire Tuesday at a condo complex in Dunellen, New Jersey.
The blaze began at about 11 a.m. on Pulaski Street near the intersection of South Avenue.

One firefigher suffered smoke inhalation and was taken away by ambulance. He is in stable condition at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital.

Firefighters had a tough time battling the fire because in the apartment where the fire started, it was a case of what some are describing as hoarding conditions.

It was so difficult getting into the apartment that firefighters had to fight it from the outside.




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The hidden problem of hoarding

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 edition of Fire Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine visit

The hidden problem of hoarding

US Correspondent Catherine Levin reports on the growing problem of hoarding fires and what is being done to tackle the issue on both sides of the pond:

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="124"] Photo from

There is a small park on the corner of 128th Street and 5th Avenue in Harlem, New York. It is on a fairly quiet residential street but not far from the hustle and bustle of 125th St, a major transport hub in northern Manhattan. The park marks the footprint of the house that until 1947 was the home to the Collyer brothers and bears their name. The park is dark, dank and unloved; and often under threat of being renamed. This is not a surprise considering what happened to Langley and Homer Collyer, who were found dead in their home amongst 130 tonnes of junk including, famously, 14 grand pianos and a model T Ford car.

Fast forward 66 years to the present day and you will still find firefighters in the US and in the UK entering homes stacked to the rafters and inhabited by those suffering from hoarding disorder. Back in 1947 it would not have been categorised as such and indeed it was only earlier this year that hoarding was defined as a mental health disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

It is possible that the only reason anyone is interested in hoarding right now is because of the power of television. In the UK and in the US, reality TV shows about hoarders are popular and have given a wide audience to this hitherto hidden phenomenon. London Fire Brigade has worked with the TV presenter Jasmine Harman. It was her programme, ‘My Hoarder Mum and Me’, which brought the problems of hoarding to a wider audience on the BBC back in 2011. As a result London Fire Brigade has developed its own training and awareness package for operational staff.

Continue reading this article Here 

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Heavy content fire

[caption id="attachment_323" align="alignright" width="200"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013

[caption id="attachment_324" align="alignright" width="200"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013
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Hoarder Home: Is anyone really in there?

Hello 911, what’s your emergency?  If you were to dial 911 and report a house on fire, you will be asked if anyone is inside the house.  This is a common question that us, firefighter, must ask ourselves on every fire that we pull up on.  As the first arriving firefighters, you must try to find out if the occupant of the home is still inside.  This finding can be complicated with the presence of hoarding condition.  People who suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder are reclusive in nature and often will not allow anyone inside their homes proving difficult for the neighbors and relatives when trying to determine if they are still inside, especially when hoarding levels have reached shoulder or head height.  Let’s look at a few complications firefighters must face when trying to determine “if anyone is really in there?”

[caption id="attachment_116" align="alignright" width="180"]Photo Courters of Keven Smith Photo Courters of Keven Smith

Before the fire happens

Pre-fire planning has never before been as important as it is today.  From lightweight wood frame to mixed occupancy businesses trying to supplement their income by adding rental properties around their business pre-fire planning  for hoarder homes can provide needed information if the property were to catch fire.  A pre-fire reporting system needs adopted once the finding of heavy content has been made.  Many times this can happen during an EMS operation, home assistance call, or even driving down the street and noticing ques and clues of a hoarding environment.

Inside your report of a “heavy content” environment the most important information should be the number of people living there, if any.  You see in hoarding conditions it is common to find a house so packed full of belongings that the occupant may not be able to live their anymore.  Case’s like this have been popping up around the world where fires happen in uninhabitable homes.  If you identify this information on your pre-fire plan you will be able to make the decision to keep searching firefighters out of the house due to the unacceptable risk of heavy contents and NO KNOWN OCCUPANTS.

Upon arrival

Upon arrival at the scene of a structural fire we all must have good interview skills.  It is helpful to have a set list of questions to help determine if occupants are inside.

  • Is anyone home

  • Does anyone live here

  • Have you been inside this home

  • When was the last time you saw someone around the house

  • Do you have a phone number for the owner

These are just a few examples of questions you may ask if heavy content is suspected.  They can give your insight into whether or not there is any chance of occupants still inside.

While many firefighters insist on searching every house every time, this risk may be too high in a hoarding environment.  If you choose to perform a search, you MUST adjust your tactics as the traditional right and left hand searches will not be a reliable means of staying oriented.  Keeping firefighters out of a house with reports of no occupants living there will help you make that decision easier.


Making the risk assessment and determination to commit firefighter to search inside hoarding conditions is a tough decision that can be assisted with the presence of a Pre-Fire plan.  Use your departments plan and add in the hoarding environments in your response area to help determine if there is anyone really inside it.  Hoarder fires are happening everyday it’s our job to identify, adjust, and attack them in a different way to make sure we all go home.  Take these suggestions and use them to help keep your firefighters safe and maybe even use then to help the people afflicted with compulsive hoarding disorder in your area seek treatment as we, the fire department, might not come in to get you!

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Crews fight flames, heavy smoke at home

Crews fight flames, heavy smoke at home

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Milwaukee Hoarder house fire

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Wheat Ridge Hoarder Fire

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Hoarder Stories:Electrical Fire

Hoarder Fire Hoarder Response from a Northeastern Fire Department:

Initial dispatch info is for sparking/arcing on the utility pole in front of the complainant's residence, at 12:08am. We respond with a crew of 3 (driver (a LT filling in), Sr  firefighter serving as acting officer (myself) and a FF) (non emergency per SOG) and arrive on scene in 5 minutes, with PD on location.  PD reports to us that he has been on location for 2 minutes, has observed nothing, spoken with the complainant, who informed him he still had power, etc.  PD leaves for a priority call at that point.  We observe nothing with regards to the pole, we quickly check some surrounding homes to confirm they have power, etc.  I go to the door to talk to the complainant and get further detail.  He reports he observed what he believed to be arcing or sparking while he was arriving home and called it in.  At this point approx. 10 minutes has passed since initial call.  I return to the street, talk to the LT, we agree the best path forward is to have dispatch make contact with the utility company to follow up in the morning and to advise the homeowner to call back should he experience any issues.  I return to the front door to talk to the resident.

As I am going over our standard details with him about following up, etc. he reports he heard a loud sound, a "bang" as he described it, in his basement.  Shortly after he makes that statement, and before I could even reply, another loud noise comes from the house, what sounds to be in the basement.  At this point, I ask him to leave the structure, verify that no one else was at home, and inform my LT of the situation.  We return to the street, we put airpacks on, grab the TIC and hand tools off the rig, I take the other FF on the crew into the house, with the LT assuming command at the street, and he requests the balance of the structure assignment.  The conditions on the first floor were EXTREMELY clean.  Nothing out of place.  It looked straight out of better homes and gardens.  I opened the basement door and attempted to turn on the light switch.  Nothing.  Doesn't work.  I call my LT as I go down the stairs to ask the occupant if the lights in the basement worked normally.  Occupant reports they do not.  I turn on my hand light while descending the stairs and it is what we refer to has "high density content".  There is nothing but 2 small paths maybe 18 inches wide, one from the base of the stairs to the south end of the basement where the washer, dryer, fuel oil tank and oil burner were located, and another small path that went to the west, where the switch panel and a man door to the outside were located.  It was stacked to waist level, or higher everywhere throughout a 20x50 space.  Everything ranging from boxes with various contents to folded cardboard boxes banded together and stacked to piles of clothes, and everything else under the sun.

At this time the 2nd due arrives and I advise the LT of the conditions and tell him to have the 2nd due crew stand by while we work in the basement.   I made the decision to head towards the panel box on the west wall.  As we advanced, we had to physically remove obstacles from the path, while walking sideways.  The piles were so high that I was actually considering withdrawing and attempting to make entry from the man door on the outside, as it appeared to be a shorter path to the panel box.  As we approached the panel box I realized the path terminated before reaching the box.  At that point I used the TIC to look for preliminary heat signatures in the walls around the panel box and in the panel box itself.  We had about 5 more feet to physically reach the panel box.  We removed approximately 20 boxes stacked, plus an old washer and dryer,  to get to the panel box.  We confirm nothing is tripped in the box.  At this point I observe the man door, which is about 5 feet further west along the same wall, is physically open, more than just ajar.

I ask the LT via radio to talk to the occupant to confirm that the door was previously closed.  Homeowner confirms it was.  I make my way to the door and observe fresh footprints in the snow immediately outside the door.  At this point my instinct is that  the home owner didn't secure the door previously and/or it was forced open by wind, banging against piles of junk around it.  We retreat back down the path we cleared and make our way back to the stairs and then to the south wall, where the functioning washer/dryer, oil burner and tank were located, walking sideways and moving items out of our path as we go.  I got close enough to get a good signature off the TIC, confirmed no issues on that wall and began working back towards the stairs again.  Total elapsed time to check the basement, over 20 minutes from time of entry to the structure. That was the part that shocked me more than the conditions we encountered...over 20 minutes...almost 25 actually.  I thought when I reached the bottom of the stairs and evaluated the situation it might take 10 minutes versus the usual 5 or so it would take under more ideal circumstances.  It took a hell of a lot longer than that.  That was the aspect that surprised me the most, was the sheer amount of time and delay in being able to fully investigate the situation in the basement.

We determined the noise was most likely due to the unsecured door contacting a junked hot water heater in its path and put everything back in service.It was a unique experience, and the hoarding conditions led to creating a situation that actually forced us to deal with them, had the hoarding conditions not existed, the situation that necessitated us to investigate would have never occurred.  Then we were forced to deal with the conditions themselves.

Learning Point:

In hindsight, if I had it to do over again, I would have withdrawn from the basement and attempted to make entry via the man door, which was the shorter path to the panel box, however we still would have had to check the other wall anyway.  No win situation I guess, but I think it would have been less labor intensive and quicker to have withdrawn and attempted entry from another direction and had a second crew work their way through to the south wall from the base of the stairs and even then I am not too keen on the idea of committing 2 crews under those conditions, with the real possibility of entrapment/entanglement, etc.

Chamber Quick Tips:

  • When Hoarding is Discovered search for alternate routes of Entry

  • Prepare yourself for the Extra Workload

  • Thermal Imaging is required in Hoarding Situations

  • Use a uncharged Hoseline or Search rope to help stay oriented in case of TIC failure

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