Often when researching fires that happen inside a hoarded environment we discover that the doors and windows are blocked with belongings. What does this mean to us? It means that they no longer choose to use the primary means of entrance and exit to their homes. This can prove to be a huge challenge as we make our choice of entry points. A recent story from Sheperdstown WV demonstrated just that. The occupant actually had scaffolding and exterior ladders that he used as primary means of entry into the top floor of his home, as the bottom was inaccessible due to the amount of belongings.
How do we deal with this problem?
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Photo Courtesy of Twin Cities Fire Wire. Click on Pic to read more...
One suggestion that I make during my class, Hoarder Homes: Piles of Hazards for Firefighters, is to make a window into a doorway and begin to remove belongings through the opening. It has been a common practice in the fire service to use window openings for secondary means of egress and RIT removal. Using the framing support of the window opening allows for the removal of the bottom supports without jeopardizing the integrity of the load-bearing wall. It also makes a great wide path to begin the debris removal.
In a hoarding environment these windows can be blocked by stacks of stuff, it is important to begin the pre-overhaul process around these windows if a crew is making entry. Pre-overhaul is the process by which the stuff is removed during the active firefighting activities in coordination with fire attack. This activity should be performed in coordination with fire attack as it will offer increased horizontal ventilation once the stacks are removed, making sure that we never vent behind an advancing hoseline.
Once you begin the pre-overhaul and open window areas, you should make the announcement to the interior crews. “Command to interior the window on side c has been removed and made wider for secondary means of egress, interior copies.”
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Photo Courtesy of Sheperdstown Fire Dept.
These widen points of entry can also be used for fire attack purposes if a defensive attack is ordered. Often in hoarding conditions, an interior attack is not justified due to the increased danger to firefighters. If the risk is greater than the reward, using an outstanding fire attack should be used and by opening up the windows, you have allowed for better access of your master streams and handlines.
By using pre-overhaul during you r next hoarder fire, you can make an extremely dangerous fire safer. Take time to review window removal with your crew and practice breaching this excellent point of entry. Put it in the toolbox of skills used when you are faced with a Hoarder Fire. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when it will happen…..
Be safe. .