Heavy Content =Not a “Normal” Fire

As I returned home from teaching the Heavy Content class to 25 firefighters from West Virginia and Ohio my phone began to ring.  “You will never believe this” was the beginning on our conversation.  Turns out that the Point Pleasant Fire Department, the host of the program, was dispatched on a confirmed working fire and they found Hoarding Conditions upon arrival.  It almost does not seem possible that they would find such a fire not more than 2 hours after sitting through the class.  Unfathomable, not really, if you think about the nature of fires in houses that have “Hoarding” or “Heavy content “inside.  Let’s take a quick review some of the more common traits found when faced with a Heavy Content fire.

Using a 380 Size up

Since taking on this topic of fighting fires in hoarding conditions I have proposed the use of a 380 degree size up, with the extra 20 degrees coming from looking in their cars.  Looking in their cars can give you a glimpse of what the interior of the house looks like.  Do I have any scientific data to back up this conclusion? Nope, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it may be a duck. This is not a concrete identification factor but can lead a first arriving firefighter to suspect that the house is in the same conditions as their vehicle.  Read more Here Firehouse.com

The Structure can be weakened BEFORE the Fire

If the occupant suffers from the affliction of compulsive hoarding disorder and their collection of belongings has limited access to the load baring walls and ceilings identifying dangerous conditions can be hindered.  An example of this would be an event such as a busted water pipe.  The occupant has such emotional attachment to their belongings they are unwilling or unable to move their “stuff” to make the necessary repairs to the wall.  Often they will just shut the water off and not repair the damage.  This can lead to mold and rotting of the support system making the structure unstable even before the fire happens.

One example of this was shared where the side C firefighters attempted an interior push and noticed that the exterior wall had completely separated from the roof.  Beep, Beep, back the truck up!  This is a glaring example of why a 380-degree size up and expecting structural damage to be present once you identify the heavy content environment.   Will making this size up you should allow all firefighters to aid in the determination of instability and everyone should be in a defensive mindset from the beginning, realize that it’s not our fight, and hit it from the outside!

Call for help early

The biggest learning point for heavy content fires is the need for additional manpower.  Any first arriving firefighter who discovers hoarding conditions need to realize that the

[caption id="attachment_220" align="alignright" width="144"]Be Prepared For Overhaul Dangers Be Prepared For Overhaul Dangers


stress placed on the firefighters will be increased and needed rehab times will be longer.  What this means is that more firefighter will be needed to accomplish the task of putting the fire under control and an even larger amount will be needed once you transfer into the overhaul phase.  Stress kills firefighters, to reduce this stress in a Heavy Content environment we should call for help early.  It’s better to have a number of lawn shepherds in the area ready to do work than be pushing the crews who are already being pushed to their physical limits.

With hoarding comes some predictable findings.  These are just a few points that should be factored into any decision making process to make sure we all come home safe from fires in Heavy Content environments!  Let’s all join in the fight to make sure we all know what and how to keep our heads up and identify these firefighter dangers!
Tragic Case of Hoarder Fire
Toronto Canada Multi Alarm Hoarder Fire 9/24/10

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