From a Northeastern Fire Department:
[caption id="attachment_45" align="alignright" width="300"] Hoarder Fire
It occurred on a warm summer night last year. Tones dropped to respond to a mutual aid town for a ‘special assignment’. The town we were responding town is generally an affluent community with above average household income. Initial communications on the incident were limited, as the OEM and others running the incident did not want the local news stations getting involved. Through the grapevine, we did find out it was a hoarder situation, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to experience. We pull up to the scene and are briefed, and before the brief is through, I can smell a very strong Oder of decay coming from the house, which was 50+ feet away. We are told “there is a 50′s year old woman on the bottom floor of a split level SFD, she is morbidly obese, has been on the couch in the basement for the past 4 years. The house has had been condemned by the health department, and this woman needed to vacate. Grab an SCBA, double gloves and be ready for orders.” … As I approached the house, I quickly realized to purpose of the SCBA.
I make entry through the door into the family room. Trashed is piled to the ceiling, and it was obvious there was a lot of effort given by the first crew just to gain access to the stairs leading down to where this woman was holding up. I make my way to the kitchen, as I scanned with my flashlight I quickly realized this was going to be far worse than anything on any TV show, this was a nightmare unraveling before my eyes.
We make our way down the stairs to find the woman, completely embarrassed and after about 10 minutes we finally create a solid working area for our feet, and I noticed that the trash had been there so long, there was a 6-inch layer of compost on the bottom. The whole time, trying to comfort this woman keeping her calm, and letting her know we were there to help… Then it happened. My partner grabs the wrong bag and heaves it far in the back corner, and the woman says, “those were my meds!!!” well needless to say, she had her meds upon exiting the dwelling. After 20 minutes of work, our vibra-alerts activated, and the EMT’s felt they had enough space to do their thing.ashamed of the situation, and a sight that will haunt me for a long time. This woman literally had not moved from this couch in 4 years. She was surrounded with soda bottle filled with urine, feces covered paper towels, empty meds bottles, food trash,… Etc… We had to clear an area for the EMTs to package her up on a reeves and bring her up the stairs. Well my partner and I begin to dig in, we start heaving trash all over the place.
The only power to the house was an extension cord weaved somehow through the debris. There was obviously no AC, and the only heat was an office space heater and fan connected to the extension cord, along with a lamp with no shade and a small TV. The daughter also lived on the premises. However, not in the house, she lived in the car, in the driveway with a similar setup for heat. Thinking back on the incident, I still cannot believe what I saw, and to think that if this place had ever caught fire, it had a fire load thatcould’ve burned for 2 days. I am glad it ended well and it was addressed before I or a fellow fire fighter had to take the risk of entering that building with a hose line.
Once again, the names and locations are changed for learning purposes. The intent of sharing accounts like this one is to hammer home the truths about hoarded homes.
Conditions are different inside a home that has space that is compacted like this one. Some common problems seen are no powers, fecal matter, urine, mix in some mold, and you have a perfect recipe for responder illness. A key point in the above story is the use of SCBA. Often when faced with hoarder conditions an EMS crew will enter without respiratory protection. We need to keep in mind the risks of entering without protection. An N95 mask should be a MINIMUM and a positive pressure SCBA is preferred.
- Responder PPE choices in Non-fire conditions
- Increased workload due to belongings
- Exposure to Bio-Hazards
- Using EMS calls to identify conditions
- Informing your inter department of the conditions.
- Give hoarder information out to EMS, Police, and Utilities.
Thanks for the visit into the Hoarder Chronicles