Hoarding Firefighting: Lesson from a Live Fire Experience

When firefighters enter a burning building many different factors come into play.  One huge factor that can affect the outcome of the operation is the presence of increased amounts of belongings, caused by a person afflicted with compulsive hoarding disorder.  As their collection of stuff accumulates the danger in hoarding firefighting increases.

[caption id="attachment_882" align="alignright" width="180"]Firefighter Enter Hoarding Firefighter Enter Hoarding


Over the past two years of reaching out to fire departments from around the world some common challenges kept coming up.  Inability to hit the seat of the fire, shielding from the heat , and difficulties in escape were top of the list.  This past weekend the chamber of hoarders had a unique opportunity to enter a “live fire” environment to experience these variables.

With the assistance of the Frontier Fire Company in Wheatfield New York a hoarding environment was set up and multiple scenarios were run.  The results were a confirmation of all the research collected. Each variable was looked at individually and together with great success.  It truly served as a reminder that hoarding changes our operations and if we are unwilling to adjust our operation it may not be successful.

Shielding from the Heat

With many safety measures in place the fire rotations started with a firefighter between the stacks of belongings with a thermal imager.  What we learned was a confirmation and an amazing result. While the other instructors took a beating from the heat in front of and behind the stacks of stuff the inside firefighters documented floor temperatures of 125 degrees with thermal imagining, shielded from the heat.

Documenting these temperatures was an unofficial, non- scientific example of the true dangers of the hoarding environment.  No monitors, measuring equipment, or recording devices were in place, just a group of firefighters with thermal imaging cameras watching something amazing.  The hoard shielded the firefighter from the heat.  It restricted the heat and pushed it past and around.  These results proved a multiple amount of points.

  • Hoarding can give interior firefighters a false sense of environment

  • Shielding can allow firefighters to push further inside without experiencing the normal heat levels

  • Stacks of stuff can trap firefighters

  • Victims can have more survivable thermal temperatures when insulated with hoarding.


With the recent research on flow paths coming to light the need to adjust them for hoarding  firefighting was revealed inside the burn room in New York this past weekend. It reconfirmed the dangers of the insulation provided by the interior conditions.  This insulation can hide the hidden heat and dangers until it’s too late.  Most firefighters advance into burning buildings using their senses to determine how far and deep they are to go.  In hoarding conditions they may keep pushing unaware of the hidden dangers waiting for them. Dangers that could present themselves in the form of rollover, flashover, or backdraft, trapping the firefighters because they don’t have secondary means of egress.

[caption id="attachment_883" align="alignright" width="120"]Hoarding Firefighting Hoarding Firefighting


 Conclusion

Confirmation that the shielding is real was not a surprising result.  This weekend just reconfirmed what we have been learning from survival stories from around the world.  Hoarding conditions can act as an insulator keeping high temperatures away from the victim or firefighter in the middle.  We need to educate firefighters to be aware that this shielding can lead to poor judgment to just how far we should push.

Identify, adjust, and attack when Hoarding is discovered!!!!!!!

 FDIC Flow Path Video. 

 
Hoarding Assessment for First Responders
Hoarding Fire Safety for Family Members

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