One of the common problems that you can encounter, if you choose to perform an interior attack, on a fire with hoarding conditions, is the punishment that your Personal Protective Equipment will face. Mountains of belongings offer many hazards to firefighters when a fire has occurred. Let us look at one perspective of fighting hoarder fires, let us look at the PPE perspective as these fires can push it to the limits.
As a hoarding problem begins, the levels of belongings inside a person’s house begin to pile up higher and higher. Eventually, if uncorrected, the stacks of stuff will be at waist level or above. This is where the problems face by firefighters is compounded by the height of the stacks. If you are faced with a manageable fire, choose to go interior, and begin your assault you may find that a firefighter can be raised upwards of two or three feet off the ground towards the ceiling. This practice is generally not recommended, as you may not know what types of debris you are crawling over and the weight of the firefighter could collapse the pile. However, if you choose to crawl over these piles, which commonly occur, you are exposing yourself to temperatures that can be well over two hundred degrees hotter than floor level.
Today’s fire science teaches us that for every six inches you can see a raise in temperature of one hundred degrees. If you choose to crawl over a pile of belongings, you are raised feet not inches. You must consider this danger before starting the climb. Fire conditions, spread, and smoke conditions will all factor into your decision. Remembering that smoke is where the fire is going, not where it is at, is a great way of looking at this. If you encounter thick, black, turbulent smoke pushing out of your choice of entry you may be exposed to flashover type risks with one exception, your two feet higher. Anyone who has been to a flashover chamber knows that this is NOT where you want to be.
What temp was this?
Another contributing factor to punishment of your PPE in hoarder fires is the exposure to increase steam burns. The compression of belongings inside this type of environment makes for harder to reach, deeper seeded, sometimes smoldering type of fires. This makes it nearly impossible to reach the seat of the fire, especially if you are crawling from another room that is filled. This means that a fog, or steam, indirect attack may be your only choice. If you choose to use the smaller droplets of a fog stream to fill the room and attack the fire you may not want to be inside that room as the conversion can come down right on top of you, with the one exception, that you are 2 feet closer to the ceiling. Even the best designed turnouts have their limits and if you are on the top of a pile you may be finding yours while in a situation that is not easily escaped from.
Here are a few Chamber tips to help reduce exposure:
- Use the pathways between the stacks to help insulate yourself during attack
- Do Not crawl over the stacks
- Use a transitional style attack, darken the fire down from the outside
- Understand that if you crawl over the piles your PPE may not protect you
- Ventilation can help reduce the heat level
Fighting fires inside hoarding conditions can be one of the most challenging fires you will ever face. The thermal protection performance of your turnouts has been chosen for us and has its limits, by keeping your PPE’S limitations in mind it will help you prepare for the fight ahead. Properly sizing up the fire and choosing the attack method will add to the chances of a safe, effective fireground. All decision’s should be made knowing that your crews have the potential to see a hotter fire that needs aggressive ventilation before entering.