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 Sdfirephotos.com Photo Courters of Keven Smith Sdfirephotos.com


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.

Conclusion

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!

 
Hoarder Fire PG County
Situational Awareness in Hoarder Homes
 

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