One of the more common themes told by firefighters when asked about fires inside hoarded environments is “we won’t go in” or “can we go inside”. The answer to this question is complicated and cannot be answered with a yes or a no. Many different variables come into play when making the decision to enter a burning building that is filled with belongings. From the size of the fire to the potential of victims being trapped, there is a large amount of decisions needing made in a small amount of time. Let’s look at some examples of the decision making process to determine if we can really go inside a hoarded environment.
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Hoarder Fire 4/2013
One of the biggest keys to a successful fireground is being prepared before the bell rings. Being aware and informed that a building has a large amount of belongings before it catches fire will allow you start the size up days in advance. If you find a building that is beyond capacity a “no entry” tag can be assigned and firefighters will not be allowed in. Making the decision can be taxing on our personnel if a report of persons trapped is transmitted. For the other levels of Heavy Content a number value can be assigned to allow an estimate of conditions. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization uses a rating scale from one to five. A level one would be clutter just outside the limits of “normal” while a level five would be packed from floor to ceiling. (http://www.challengingdisorganization.org/
If you have these buildings pre-planned to their levels an incident commander can take this into consideration before committing firefighters to the interior. Making this assessment can be made during or after an ems run, during a fire alarm instillation, or a drive by the location. Gaining access to private homes will prove to be the biggest challenge. Multi-Family dwellings make it easier with the allowing of once a year inspections and property owners access. Adding hoarding homes to your pre fire process will offer a level of awareness and share it to everyone on the fireground.
Points of Entry
The next point of emphasis in making the determination to send firefighters inside is the blocked doors and windows. Having a secondary means of egress should be a point of importance when sending firefighters inside. If things were to go bad, can they get out? If they cannot you should make it so they can. Opening the structure up can intensify the fire but will also offer a level of increased safety if an escape is needed. Beginning the Pre-Overhaul Process is a great way of making an escape route. Removing windows, blocked doors, and sill removals should be used on all exterior windows. (caution, venting behind hose crews should not be allowed as the fire can be drawn back onto them!)
Compulsive hoarding disorder can absolutely take over a house. From cluttered living rooms to blocked doors often in these conditions primary entrances and exits are blocked. This means that taking a 1 ¾-inch handline and stretching it to the front door will not allow access to the house. Being creative and attentive to the size up clues and ques will allow a hose team to make the correct choice of points of entry.
Can we go inside a Heavy Content fire and put it out? Without talking in circles too much I will leave that up to you. Use the points in this blog for some reference in reviewing with your crew. Firefigthers have been crawling into these conditions for many years, many with successful outcomes. If we use our heads and use the size ups, prepare secondary means of exit, and closely monitor conditions from the exterior and interior it will allow the incident commander to make the call. Just remember that many rescues are made within six feet of an exit. Stay safe and remember to be Heavy Content ready!