Complications of Searching inside Hoarder Conditions

Station and units respond to XYZ Street for the structure fire with confirmed people trapped.  This could possibly be the most intense statement ever heard over your dispatch channel.  Immediately everyone goes into a rescue mode and everyone’s focus goes to locating the victim as saving lives,  our number one priority.

Searching and locating victims inside a house fire can be challenging process that will physically drain your firefighters in minutes.  Most firefighter chooses a type of search pattern to start with and can adjust when the search has encountered difficulty.  Hoarding conditions is a difficulty that will need adjusted for when a search is to be performed.  Compulsive hoarding disorder will cause a person to overload their homes with things that have no apparent value to you and I, what rooms do they start their collections in?

[caption id="attachment_324" align="alignright" width="120"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013


While not an absolute truth, many people that suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder begin their collections in attic spaces and basements.  Once full of belongings their collection will spill into the living spaces such as living rooms and bedrooms.  This compulsive collecting makes the living spaces that are usable become limit. How should you adjust you searching once the heavy content discovery has been made?  Let’s review some complications faced when searching for trapped victims.

 



Collapsed belongings

A recent news story of a compulsive hoarder that was reported missing for days just to be discovered days later drives home the need for an intense focus when searching.  Collapsing belongings can cover up victims and trap searching firefighters.   Compulsive hoarding disorder can attribute to a number of belongings being collected, from piles of newspapers to car parts a firefighter needs to anticipate finding various types of collections behind the doors of a hoarded home.   A few common types of belongings often collected are newspapers, DVD cases, and magazines will be stacked from floor a possible ceiling level.  Each of these stacks individually will not offer many challenges but put them all in the same small space and the chance for debris falling as a occupant tries to self extricated from the house can cover them, easily.

 

Where to start searching

Many hoarder conditions  have rooms filled to capacity and often the last to rooms to be filled are the bathroom and kitchen.  While this may seem like a useless finding, it may offer you a starting point of your search not usually thought of.  If a fire were to happen at 0200 in a residential neighborhood most firefighters would begin in the bedroom area.  In hoarded environments the bedroom may not be used for sleeping.  When sizing up a heavy content environment determining the locations and the levels of hoarding is important.  If the smoke conditions allow this the bedrooms should be assessed transmit findings to all firefighters on scene.

If the bedrooms assessment tends to show an unusable space your search will need to begin in the spaces that are usable   Starting a search in the kitchen or bathrooms may be where you will find an occupant.  This is especially true if the occupant is alerted to the fire and tries to escape.  It has been documented that firefighters have made successful rescues from these two areas. Hoarder Fire Training

One problem with starting your search inside a kitchen or bathroom is the access to them.  Often these rooms can have limited access from the outside.  This means that you will have to battle your way through a area that could potentially be hoarded beyond use.  Using tactics from the exterior will offer the firefighters a barrier of safety but if you choose to go through the “goat paths” you will need to make an extra effort to stay oriented, increase crew size, and be prepared to deal with the collapsing piles of debris.

 

Final thoughts

If you are alerted to people trapped in a Hoarder Fire you should take notice that they may be covered by their own belongings.  Adjusting your search patterns, moving the piles, and sweeping under stacks of belongings are all successful tactics to use when searching in the hoarded environment.  All of these tasks should be conducted under the direction of an interior officer and assisted with the use of a Thermal Imagine Camera.  Sweeping the area with a TIC can help you see any abnormal stacks of stuff that could be hiding a victim.

In your next search drill add some different variables to it like stacks of belongings and obstacles to search under in case you are tasked with searching in a hoarded environment to make sure we all go home.

 

Here are some links to the New Jersey Case  http://www.northjersey.com/news/Sad_story_of_New_Milford_womans_death_puts_spotlight_on_disorder_of_hoarding.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/partly-mummified-woman-found-n-apt-article-1.1317931
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Firefighters: Can we really go inside?

One of the more common themes told by firefighters when asked about fires inside hoarded environments is “we won’t go in” or “can we go inside”.  The answer to this question is complicated and cannot be answered with a yes or a no.  Many different variables come into play when making the decision to enter a burning building that is filled with belongings.  From the size of the fire to the potential of victims being trapped, there is a large amount of decisions needing made in a small amount of time.  Let’s look at some examples of the decision making process to determine if we can really go inside a hoarded environment.

[caption id="attachment_324" align="alignright" width="120"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013


Pre-Planned Structures

One of the biggest keys to a successful fireground is being prepared before the bell rings.  Being aware and informed that a building has a large amount of belongings before it catches fire will allow you start the size up days in advance. If you find a building that is beyond capacity a “no entry” tag can be assigned and firefighters will not be allowed in.  Making the decision can be taxing on our personnel if a report of persons trapped is transmitted.  For the other levels of Heavy Content a number value can be assigned to allow an estimate of conditions.  The Institute for Challenging Disorganization uses a rating scale from one to five.  A level one would be clutter just outside the limits of “normal” while a level five would be packed from floor to ceiling. (http://www.challengingdisorganization.org/)



If you have these buildings pre-planned to their levels an incident commander can take this into consideration before committing firefighters to the interior.  Making this assessment can be made during or after an ems run, during a fire alarm instillation, or a drive by the location.  Gaining access to private homes will prove to be the biggest challenge.  Multi-Family dwellings make it easier with the allowing of once a year inspections and property owners access.  Adding hoarding homes to your pre fire process will offer a level of awareness and share it to everyone on the fireground.

 

Points of Entry

The next point of emphasis in making the determination to send firefighters inside is the blocked doors and windows.  Having a secondary means of egress should be a point of importance when sending firefighters inside.  If things were to go bad, can they get out?  If they cannot you should make it so they can.  Opening the structure up can intensify the fire but will also offer a level of increased safety if an escape is needed.  Beginning the Pre-Overhaul Process is a great way of making an escape route.  Removing windows, blocked doors, and sill removals should be used on all exterior windows. (caution, venting behind hose crews should not be allowed as the fire can be drawn back onto them!)

Compulsive hoarding disorder can absolutely take over a house.  From cluttered  living rooms to blocked doors often in these conditions  primary entrances and exits are blocked.  This means that taking a 1 ¾-inch handline and stretching it to the front door will not allow access to the house.  Being creative and attentive to the size up clues and ques will allow a hose team to make the correct choice of points of entry.

 

Conclusion

Can we go inside a Heavy Content fire and put it out?  Without talking in circles too much I will leave that up to you.  Use the points in this blog for some reference in reviewing with your crew.  Firefigthers have been crawling into these conditions for many years, many with successful outcomes.  If we use our heads and use the size ups, prepare secondary means of exit, and closely monitor conditions from the exterior and interior it will allow the incident commander to make the call.  Just remember that many rescues are made within six feet of an exit.  Stay safe and remember to be Heavy Content ready!
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Two Killed in North Tonawanda House Fire



News story from a "Colliers Mansion" type conditions in northern New York State.  Prayers to the families and the first reponders.  Here is a Link for more on this tragic fire.

 
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Hoarding Class Testimonial

On April 6th, 2013 I attended the Wyoming County Fire School held in Saulsville, WV at the Southern WV Community College. During my 6+ years of service in the Fire and EMS field, training like this is normal. I registered with about 30 other first responders for a class called “Hoarding Fires” taught by Charleston Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan Pennington.


While I have had innumerable training sessions on everything from restaurant fires, residential fires, brush fires, and vehicle fires, I had never received a hoarding class. I honestly never gave it any thought, just assumed that since there is more fuel to burn in a hoarding or heavy content fire, you would just use more water and a bigger shovel.


How wrong I was… The class only lasted for about 4 hours, but it blew me and my fellow firemen away how something that we deal with on a fairly regular basis was so dangerous. We weren't hounded with scientific theories and clinical study findings, just simply the proven and indisputable facts of what signs always present, and how to proceed safely.


One thing Ryan repeatedly expressed was the need to do a “380” degree scene size-up, which included not only the standard trip completely around the residence to assess for hazards, but to also look for the signs of a possible heavy content fire. Everything that was taught in the course was logged away in the back of our minds, and we moved on to lunch, and then the next class.






              Once classes had let out for the day I returned home and got ready for my shift as a Deputy Sheriff in my county. Being a Deputy, Volunteer Firefighter, and Paramedic has it’s advantages. My job allows me the flexibility to respond with my fire company, the Pineville Fire Dept. St. 400, when I am not on another task. Every time I hear the tones drop for my department, I go to the scene, and a lot of times I arrive before them.


I try to give a quick assessment, a scene size-up, and fill in the gaps of any information that may have not been relayed to them during the page. Tonight was no different. Around 8:30pm I am driving around the area when I hear the tones for my department drop and the dispatcher advise there is a structure fire just outside of city limits, about 2 miles away from me. I mark en-route and arrive on scene about the time my department and their automatic mutual aid go en-route. I see a single story residential dwelling with heavy smoke and flames presenting from the “A” side.


I position my cruiser past it to deny any traffic coming down and blocking the engine, and then radio Capt. Mike Johnson who was responding on the first due engine, and give him a quick size-up. I then get out and walk around the residence checking for any hazards, and ask the neighbors if the owners are home. I walk back towards my cruiser to keep a few eager onlookers in check as the engine arrives. After taking care of my official duties, I turn back to fire side of it and go back to the residence to see if any of my fire dept guys need anything.


As I go back to the residence I look through a large window in the front of the house and notice that all I can see is things piled up in front of the window. Then what I had just learned that morning suddenly comes back into my mind. “Do a 380” I can hear Ryan saying, “Take a few extra seconds to do the scene survey and it may save you an injury or worse.” I go back to the engine where Capt Johnson is the incident commander and tell him, somewhat enthusiastically, that I think this is a heavy contents fire. As I am taking to him Firefighter Josh England, who had been in class with us that morning, came over with the same excitement I had and said “Look in those windows!!


This is a heavy contents fire!” “Are we sure that the residents are not in there?” Capt Johnson asked me, “Yes, the neighbors saw them leave prior to the fire becoming visible” I responded. “We’re not going in. Defensive attack only” And with those orders from the Capt, 2 1¾” lines were placed at the front and rear of the residence, and 1 2½” was placed at the side and we began our defensive attack.


After the fire was knocked down we began doing overhaul. As the fire had burned away a great portion of the front of the residence, pile after pile, after pile, of garbage was visible in the front rooms of the residence. One group of firefighters went to the rear of the residence, which was still intact, and had to force the door open because there was so much trash piled up against it. An attached garage was full to the top with trash literally touching the ceiling.


The visible rooms were all full of garbage as far as the eye could see. While no official cause to this fire has been determined at this time, due to several factors, the cause of this fire is suspicious. It is possible that a flammable source was added to the residence and ignited, which only added to the already dangerous heavy content environment.



            Upon finishing overhaul we took some time to reflect about the fire, and what we could learn from it. Immediately those of us who had just received the heavy content training began explaining to the others why we didn’t make entry, and why it was more dangerous than the normal structure fire. Several of us began contact Ryan and relating to him how we had just finished working a heavy content fire, and thanking him for the training. All in all it was a very successful day.


We saw the signs, Capt Johnson made the right decision, we got the job done, and most importantly everyone went home safely. Had we not have known to do a 380 survey, didn't know how to recognize the signs of a heavy contents fire and didn't know the added dangers of them, there is a great possibility that we would have treated this as a “normal” residential fire and may have proceeded with an interior attack.


This could have resulted in one of our men getting injured, or even killed. There is no doubt that the heavy contents course taught to us by Ryan Pennington completely changed our way of thinking about fires, and taught us how to assess the situation a little closer before we go about putting out the fire. It may have just kept us from making a serious mistake and costing us the health of one of our brothers. Thankfully we are all still here alive and well, a little smarter, and all very much jump seat ready.


Dwight Meadows,


 Fire-Medic


Pineville WV Fire Dept.
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Cat Hoarding Fire


View more videos at: http://nbcphiladelphia.com.


he SPCA rescues nearly two dozen cats out of a Philadelphia home, after it catches fire this evening.


NBC10's Chris Cato talked to a neighbor who lives on the 800 block of Medway Road in Bustleton, and was the first to spot the flames.


"I ran back there and looked out and there was flames coming out of the kitchen," said Denise Mueller.


After firefighters put out the flames, they noticed all the cats inside the home and alerted the SPCA.


Two cats died in the fire. SPCA workers rescued 21 cats in total.


Police call this a "hoarding situation" and they say it's not just because of the number of cats, but because of the condition inside the home.


 

Read More Here 

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WV Cluttered Fire-Fatal



HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – After an elderly man died in a house fire in Huntington during the weekend, firefighters are warning about a hazard many of us have in our own homes: clutter.

Huntington firefighters had to break second-floor windows to get inside the Madison Avenue home Saturday morning to save 87-year-old Joseph Martin. Upstairs rooms filled with storage and clutter made that more difficult.

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Situational Awareness in Hoarder Homes


Here is a Guest Post From Dr. Richard Gasaway's Website on Situational Awareness in Hoarder Homes.  Dr. Gasaway is a worldwide leader in educating first resonders in situational awareness.  Make sure to check out his website samatters.com

Because SAMATTERS......

 

I want to take this opportunity to introduce the Situational Awareness Matters community of readers to an associate and good friend of mine, Firefighter-Paramedic Ryan Pennington with the Charleston (WV) Fire Department. Ryan has been conducting extensive research on the epidemic problem of emergencies in hoarder homes. Emergencies including everything from fires to EMS calls to animal hoarding issues – the whole gamut. Ryan has also developed a knock-out program on hoarder home fires. If you’re jurisdiction is having problems with hoarder home fires, Ryan’s program may be just what you need. Let’s see what Ryan has to say in this guest article on “Heavy Content” Hoard Homes.

 

Good afternoon and welcome to SAmtters.com.  I would like to take this opportunity to speak to you, the loyal readers of SAmatters, on Hoarder House Fires.  Educating firefighters on the dangers associated with hoarder fires has become my passion, so when Chief Gasaway offered, I jumped at the chance to share a lesson in hoarding with you.  So let’s go into the chamber of hoarders for an article on using the term “heavy contents” while battling a Hoarder Homes fires.

Hoarder Home Size-Up

Situational Awareness Matters!The duty of the first arriving officer is to size up the situation accurately.  During this process they will use their senses to form a plan of attack by walking around the structure.  During your size up you will need to pay close attention to windows, front yards, porches, and entry ways for signs of hoarded interiors.  If you make this determination you need to announce “Heavy Contents” to everyone on scene and responding to tell them of the conditions.  It’s kind of ironic that I am writing about the use of this term for Dr. G’s website as he was instrumental in developing it.  You see he is the brain science professor that helped me realize the meaning behind these two terms placed beside each other.

The Origins of Hoarding

Situational Awareness Matters!We all have terms that we use to describe a hoarded home.  From “trash house” to “Collier’s Mansions”, a term derived from the Collier brothers in Manhattan. They made hoarding famous or should I say infamous. We have used multiple versions of describing the same thing. These words have the same meaning behind them but can be harmful to the owners of the homes if they are standing beside one of our radios when the report gets to command.  You see, people who live in hoarded conditions have an emotional attachment to their “stuff.”  A simple stack of newspapers to you might have a deep emotional meaning for them.  You can see how it might cause a problem if they overheard radio traffic describing their belongings as “trash” or their home as a “trash house.”  If you choose to use “Collier’s Mansion” terminology you will need to make sure that everyone who might respond to your scene has a true understanding of its meaning.

Heavy Contents

Situational Awareness Matters!That is why I developed the term Heavy Contents.  It is politically correct, accurate, and should trigger your brain to start thinking of the increased weight that is added to the structure, even before the first drop of water hits the ground. Hoarded homes often have so much stuff in them that normal living spaces become uninhabitable. If the belongings are occupying that amount of space imagine how much extra weight has been added onto the structure. This is where the term Heavy comes in.  A large amount of belongings equals a large amount of weight and it is a term that anyone can relate to, even if they haven’t been taught it, due to the use of common terminology.

Property Maintenance

Situational Awareness Matters!Another complication inside a hoarded home is the lack of property maintenance.  Hoarder conditions make it almost impossible to reach all the points of the structure from leaking pipes, busted ceilings, finding termites, or noticing a leaking exterior wall leading to weakened structural members.  This is troubling to us, as firefighters, due to the chances of structural collapse being increased, often without us knowing. This is just another reminder that if we hear the term heavy content called out that we should automatically think of increased collapse risks.

Piled High and Deep

Situational Awareness Matter!The second of the two words should warn you of the dangers that lie inside.  With hoarder homes you can face belongings that can reach all the way to the ceiling.  Add in a fast-moving fire with thick dark smoke and it’s a recipe for your death.  If you hear the call of heavy content you need to go to a defensive mindset.  Not so much that you need to abandon interior operations, although that would be a wise decision many times, but you need to be more careful in selecting your point of entry, hand tools, and absolutely do not enter without a thermal imagining camera and a hose or search rope to help aid in your exit. In a hoarder home the right and left hand searches are basically useless due to the inability to use the walls. Your only link to the outside is that hose or search line if your TIC batteries fail.

In closing I would like to thank Dr. G for giving me the guidance over the past 20 plus years and the chance to share an article on hoarder home fires with you. You should read this article, return to your department, and share the term “heavy content” with anyone who may respond to a hoarded home in an emergency. It should hammer home the importance that it’s not a basic fire anymore.  Hoarded houses can put you at a higher risk that needs to be identified and adjusted for immediately upon the discovery of heavy content’s.  Using a term developed with Dr. G’s brain science will hammer home to your people the need and hopefully make you remember this article.  Just remember that SA does matter and before you go into your next fire maybe you should spend some time reading Chamber of Hoarders (www.Chamberofhoarders.com) so you will be ready to face the Heavy Contents inside your next hoarder home fire.

Hoarder Home Podcast

Ryan Pennington will be a guest on my Leader’s Toolbox Podcast radio program at Firehouse.com next Wednesday. This is not a live program.  I will send out an announcement via my social media channels to let you know when it goes live, along with a link.

Hoarder Home Webinar

Ryan and I will also be jointly presenting a Webinar on situational awareness and firefighter safety in hoarded environments. The date will be announced soon on my social media channels. If this is a topic that interests you, please post a comment at the end of this article and send me a message on my Facebook Fan page or on Twitter. Thank you! Your participation is very important to the success of Situational Awareness Matters!

Chief Gasaway’s Advice

Situational Awareness Matters!Hoarder homes present special challenges for first responders, including fire, EMS and police. The hoarded environment is especially dangerous because of the heavy loads, the unpredictability of the contents and the limited ingress and egress. Hoarder home emergencies cannot be treated the same a non-hoarded homes. Thanks Ryan for taking the lead on this critically important topic.

Situational awareness starts with capturing clues and cues that are the foundation of knowing what is going on. In a hoarded environment, those clues and cues are going to be different – maybe even bazaar. There may be indicators outside the house (often there is) but you may not know it until you make entry and then get the surprise of your life.

DiscussionsSituational Awareness Matters!

1. Discuss hoarder home calls that you have been on and what you encountered that made the call more difficult.

2. Discuss the clues and cues that indicate the home is a hoarder home.

3. Discuss alternate strategies for getting your work done safely.
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Heavy Content House fire in WV



 

Here is a video from Sheperdstown WV illustrating the challenges faced by firefighters dealing with heavy content environments   Watch as the firefighters climb up, perform a search, and then attack from the sides to provide a safe fire attack.
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Hoarder Fire Survey Results



 Here are the results of the recent Hoarder fire survey sent out by the Chamber of Hoarders Staff.  Huge “thank you” to the USFA for sharing survey with the fire service community.  The response was overwhelming.

1.       Have you ever responded to a fire with Hoarder Conditions:


Yes: 100%             No   0.00%







2.       How long did it take you to realize that you were facing a hoarder house fire:


Minute: 52.4%               5 Minutes: 35.4                 Start of Overhaul: 11.0%               After Fire:2.4%







3.       Were their occupants trapped:


Yes: 11.0%           No: 89.0%







4.       Did you crew communicate to the incident commanders that they had Hoarder Conditions?


Yes: 39.0%           No: 43.9%            Not Sure: 13.4%                Didn’t Hear: 3.7%





5.       How many personnel did you have on the scene of the Hoarder Home:


5-10: 11.0%   10-20: 52.4%    20-30: 3.7%  30-40: 3.7%         50 or more:1.2%


More than normal: 6.1%






6.       How long did it take to overhaul after the fire was under control?


Longer than normal: 43.9%          10-15 Minutes: 1.2%       30-50 Minutes:  14.6%


60-90 Minutes: 14.6%                     2 Hours or More: 28.0%





7.       Was structure demolition required to extinguish the fire?


Yes: 13.6              No: 86.4%





8.       Would your department benefit from a Hoarder Training Program?


Yes: 79.3%           No: 22.0%




The numbers do not lie that we are all seeing fires in hoarder conditions.   The last two questions are coming soon.  They contained short answer questions and the responses were great.  Stay tuned in to the chamber to see the exciting answers.





 Thank you to all who took part in this survey!


welcome to the jumpseat!
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Hoarding: Dealing with the Occupant’s

While  studying Compulsive Hoarding Disorder and the effects that it has on today’s first responders one common problem keeps coming up.  Dealing with the occupants of these homes can prove to be a challenging problem  if you  are tasked with an emergency inside their Hoarded Environment.

Interaction with the people who collect, accumulate, and acquire this massive amounts of belongings can place the first responder in a different type of danger. Physical danger from the anger that someone can experience when someone touches his or her treasured belongings.  Let’s look at a few common tactics to diffuse the tension and protect ourselves from the dangers faced when interacting with the people who hoard.

[caption id="attachment_248" align="alignright" width="134"]Photo Courtesy of Sheperdstown Fire Photo Courtesy of Sheperdstown Fire


Do not be judgmental

One of the hardest things to do as first reponders is to leave our values and opinions that we have established over the years behind when we discover a hoarding environment.  I have seen many first responders find these conditions and immediately become aggressive in telling the occupants that “this is the filthiest house ever” and “this place stinks” as they pull their shirt over their noses.

While this can be a very hard to resist it will put the occupant in a heightened state of sensitivity and can even evoke a response of anger or violence to the first responder.



By being non-judgmental and aware that hoarding is becoming a diagnosable physiological disorder we can further understand their deep attachment to their belongings.  Hoarding is not a choice and the inability to “let go” of their belongings that seem to have no apparent value to you and I can cause them be defensive and take offense to such statements if we were to make them.

Compulsive Hoarder’s have a hard time distinguishing between an object of great value, such as child’s baby pictures, and an item that has little apparent value, such as a stack of coupons.

This attachment may seem unimaginable by us but by understanding how they process this information can give us, the responders, the knowledge to be sensitive to their conditions when interacting with them.

Explain what is happening

While interacting with a person suffering from this affliction during the process of mitigating their emergency we have little choice but be direct sometimes, especially when dealing with a life or death emergency.

An example would be in the case of a medical emergency where we need access to the patient fast.  One problem with our aggressive nature is in the process of accessing the patient we may disrupt their world.

With the assigning of value to items folks who suffer from this also get angry at anyone who touch or “disrupt” their stacks of belongings .  If they watch you moving, touching, or tossing their treasures aside they can become angry with you and may even become violent.

One way of lessoning this potential is to explain your actions to the person in a sensitive manner before or during the actions.  Ma’am or Sir, I understand that this may upset you but we need to get you to the hospital as soon as possible, would be a direct statement to use in these circumstances.  While this is not an end all cure all it will help ease the tension felt by your patients in the case of removing them to an awaiting ems unit.

[caption id="attachment_159" align="alignright" width="134"]Photo Courtesy of Sheperdstown Fire Dept. Photo Courtesy of Sheperdstown Fire Dept.


Move them away

One type of response may require you to relocate the occupant to another location.  In the event of a fire, we may not have time to interact with the occupant. Before making this decision you will need to conduct an interview to determine if all occupants have exited the building, and which entrance do they normally use to access the building.

When hoarding takes over an occupancy it often blocks means of entry and exit causing the occupant to use a different means of access, such as a window or ladder.

Once the interview is over and the firefight has continued you may experience the occupant going through an emotional emergency.  Remember that as our firefighters are removing, throwing, and breaking through the piles of belongings the occupant sees you as hurting their treasured items.  Anger, yelling, or even physical violence can result due to their deep emotional attachment.  This is where we may need to involve neighbors, bystanders, or even the police department to help remove the occupant to insure their and our safety.  Understanding the nature of Compulsive Hoarding Disorder will allow us to understand their emotions when dealing with their stack of stuff.

 

Conclusion:

Understanding the complexity of Compulsive Hoarding Disorder will allow you insight into dealing with the men and woman who suffer from this disorder.  It has proven that hoarding can lead to a multitude of problems from health concerns to working house fires.  One problem that we should prepare for is interacting with the people who live inside these cluttered environments and develop some strategies to deal with the potential for danger to them and us. We are sworn to protect life and property our safety is always first on the list.  By safely developing a means of interaction with people who has this disorder will allow us to help everyone in and around the hoarded environment.
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Heavy Content =Not a “Normal” Fire

As I returned home from teaching the Heavy Content class to 25 firefighters from West Virginia and Ohio my phone began to ring.  “You will never believe this” was the beginning on our conversation.  Turns out that the Point Pleasant Fire Department, the host of the program, was dispatched on a confirmed working fire and they found Hoarding Conditions upon arrival.  It almost does not seem possible that they would find such a fire not more than 2 hours after sitting through the class.  Unfathomable, not really, if you think about the nature of fires in houses that have “Hoarding” or “Heavy content “inside.  Let’s take a quick review some of the more common traits found when faced with a Heavy Content fire.

Using a 380 Size up

Since taking on this topic of fighting fires in hoarding conditions I have proposed the use of a 380 degree size up, with the extra 20 degrees coming from looking in their cars.  Looking in their cars can give you a glimpse of what the interior of the house looks like.  Do I have any scientific data to back up this conclusion? Nope, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it may be a duck. This is not a concrete identification factor but can lead a first arriving firefighter to suspect that the house is in the same conditions as their vehicle.  Read more Here Firehouse.com

The Structure can be weakened BEFORE the Fire

If the occupant suffers from the affliction of compulsive hoarding disorder and their collection of belongings has limited access to the load baring walls and ceilings identifying dangerous conditions can be hindered.  An example of this would be an event such as a busted water pipe.  The occupant has such emotional attachment to their belongings they are unwilling or unable to move their “stuff” to make the necessary repairs to the wall.  Often they will just shut the water off and not repair the damage.  This can lead to mold and rotting of the support system making the structure unstable even before the fire happens.

One example of this was shared where the side C firefighters attempted an interior push and noticed that the exterior wall had completely separated from the roof.  Beep, Beep, back the truck up!  This is a glaring example of why a 380-degree size up and expecting structural damage to be present once you identify the heavy content environment.   Will making this size up you should allow all firefighters to aid in the determination of instability and everyone should be in a defensive mindset from the beginning, realize that it’s not our fight, and hit it from the outside!

Call for help early

The biggest learning point for heavy content fires is the need for additional manpower.  Any first arriving firefighter who discovers hoarding conditions need to realize that the

[caption id="attachment_220" align="alignright" width="144"]Be Prepared For Overhaul Dangers Be Prepared For Overhaul Dangers


stress placed on the firefighters will be increased and needed rehab times will be longer.  What this means is that more firefighter will be needed to accomplish the task of putting the fire under control and an even larger amount will be needed once you transfer into the overhaul phase.  Stress kills firefighters, to reduce this stress in a Heavy Content environment we should call for help early.  It’s better to have a number of lawn shepherds in the area ready to do work than be pushing the crews who are already being pushed to their physical limits.

With hoarding comes some predictable findings.  These are just a few points that should be factored into any decision making process to make sure we all come home safe from fires in Heavy Content environments!  Let’s all join in the fight to make sure we all know what and how to keep our heads up and identify these firefighter dangers!
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Toronto Canada Multi Alarm Hoarder Fire 9/24/10



Highrise Fire Audio in Hoarding Conditions

Read more from Firefighting in Canada

Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek used blunt language to describe the worst hoarding fire in Canada, the September 2010 highrise fire at 200 Wellesley St. in Toronto: The tremendous growth and spread of the fire was a result of the excessive amount of combustible materials stored on the balcony and in the suite of origin . . .

 

This is a challenging fire from Toronto Canada that I use in my program.  Listen to this compelling audio as they battle Hoarding Conditions in a High Rise Structure with multiple Maydays!
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Collapse risk in Hoarding Conditions

Welcome back in the Chamber of Hoarders! Now that our California trip is over it’s time to continue our mission of protecting emergency responders from the dangers associated with Hoarding.  One of the biggest learning points given when teaching this topic is the need to double estimate burn times and assume that collapse could happen at any time, why is this?  Many factors need to be considered if you are faced with hoarding conditions and structural stability is one of the biggest. Let’s take a look at small sample of the dangers associated with the collapse risks.

Lack of Maintenance

[caption id="attachment_248" align="alignright" width="224"]Photo Courtesy of Sheperdstown Fire Photo Courtesy of Sheperdstown Fire


 

Hoarding behavior in itself tends to add to structural instability as the occupants often feel “embarrassed” or “ashamed” about their disorder.  This will not allow them to let outsiders such as family or carpenters in to fix issues that occur as a part of normal household maintenance.  An example of this would be a busted water pipe that has been leaking for days. Most folks would take the time to pull drywall, find the problem, repair it and return it to service.  With hoarding conditions, the inability to access this problem is an huge issue on top of the fact that they will not allow a qualified construction crew into fix the problem.



Over time, the water will begin to rot away at the structural components that support the floors, walls, and/or roof.  This can put them in such a weakened state that they be in danger of collapse before the first drop of water is applied.  It can also lead to a false sense of security to the first arriving firefighters who may feel some give in the floor area and not suspect collapse could be crawling into a disaster.  Once you have made the discovery of heavy contents it should be automatically assume that the structure is in a weakened state.

Load Levels

It has been well documented that people that are afflicted with Compulsive Hoarding Disorder may assign a value to any type of object. From books and magazines to car parts, you may discover many different types of belongings hidden inside a home with hoarding conditions.  Making the determination of what is being collected will help an incident commander make a quick analysis of the potential for a life threatening collapse or the potential to NOT GO IN!

A good rule of thumb to keep everyone safe in hoarding conditions it to double the estimated burn time.  If you estimate it takes 5 minutes to discover a fire, 2 minutes to call 911, and 8 minutes to get water on the fire you should take this 15 minutes and assume that it has been burning for over 30!  This will put everyone in a defensive mindset even if you choose to go interior!

 

Structural collapse can be the most dangerous effects of a building on fire experienced by today’s firefighters. It’s our job to learn the cues and clues of a structural collapse.  It is even more important to identify hoarding conditions to make sure that we are not caught in a situation that was unstable before it caught on fire!

 

Be safe everyone and thanks for the visit to the Chamber!
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Hoarder fuels Taylor house fire



TAYLOR (WXYZ) - Authorities in Taylor battled a house fire Wednesday morning that they say was clogged with debris.

Police closed a section of Goddard Road near Oak Street around 5:30 a.m. where the home was burning. They said it looks like a hoarder may have occupied the home at one point.

The large amount of debris stored in the house fueled the fire and caused the Taylor fire chief to call for the fire marshal, a building inspector and a back-hoe.

STAY WITH WXYZ.COM AND 7 ACTION NEWS FOR UPDATES.

Read more: http://www.wxyz.com/dpp/news/debris-from-possible-hoarder-fuels-taylor-house-fire#ixzz2KoAYYvWW
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Hoarder News Interview



 

Check out this news interview with Ryan Pennington from ChamberofHoarders.com.  WCHS TV stopped by to interview him during his presentation of Hoarder Homes: Piles of Hazards for firefighters.  Check out this Hoarder News Story
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Lansing Michigan "Cluttered Fire"



LANSING — A wind chill well below zero and a fire consuming a house so filled with belongings that firefighters could not safely enter it culminated in a headache for Lansing firefighters Tuesday morning.

Crews were called to a two-story house shortly before 9 a.m. in the 800 block of North Pine Street, on the northwest corner of Pine and Madison Streets, for a fire officials believe started in the kitchen.

However, crews quickly decided it was safer to stay outside the home to battle the blaze due to “a large number of belongings” throughout the home, said Lansing Fire Department Public Information Officer Eric Weber.

Read More Here
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Worst Animal Hoarding Fire

WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather

 

CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - We have an update on what McKamey Animal Center has called the worst animal hoarding fire this area has ever had.


Dozens of cats died when an East Brainerd home burned Saturday.


Chattanooga firefighters say piles of clutter made getting to the fire a challenge in a house filled with at least 50 cats. They also say fecal matter covered the home. Now McKamey Animal Center is investigating to determine if animal abuse and neglect charges will be filed.


A family of four rent the Elaine Trail home in East Brainerd. The husband, wife and two sons escaped the fire unharmed, but dozens of their cats didn't.


"The majority of the cats died in the fire. We now have 17 survivors," McKamey Animal Center Director Karen Walsh said.


Those surviving cats are now quarantined at McKamey Animal Center undergoing treatment. Many are singed, shaking, and in shock after firefighters pulled them out from piles of clutter inside the burning home.


"Suffered from heat and from soot and some of them from the water. Some of them got singed. A few were burned, but they were also breathing in that smoke as well," Walsh said.


The Chattanooga Fire Department ruled the fire accidental, possibly electrical, but animal control is doing it's own investigation for animal abuse and neglect.


"Sometimes these cases aren't prosecutable. They're more of someone who needs help," Walsh said.


In Chattanooga, you're required special permits if you have more than seven cats. This family did not have those permits. Walsh says it's impossible to take care of 50 cats and that the fecal matter throughout the home likely played a role in the fire spreading so quickly.


Story from Wrcbtv.com


 
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Hoarder Fires: If you see something…Say Something

How often do you train with your portable radios? In today’s fire service most all firefighters carry portable radios, how often do you review what is important traffic.  One such transmission should be Heavy Contents. Hoarder Fire

From a street level, jumpseat riding, firefighter like me to the chief of the department allowing them all to transmit a discovery of hoarder conditions should be encouraged if you are face with an extra amount of contents, such as those found in a hoarder home.  Compulsive hoarding can be found at many different levels (1-5) that have their own characteristics.  Using you cues and clues from the first alarm to the backing in of the last truck will help you all come home safe.  Let’s take a look at vital transmitions that should be made if hoarding conditions are discovered.



1)      Blocked Entrance points:  Often in hoarding conditions entry doors and exits are no longer able to be used.  From a level 3 or above multiple doors and windows will become blocked as their hoard accumulates and block them.

2)      Overloaded yards:  Many times a hoarded environment will spill over into their yards.  These are the easiest conditions to identify, but keep in mind that building codes inside city limits front yards will not show, but backyards can.

3)      Overloaded attic spaces: In the beginning of a collection of belongings the attic space can be the beginning.  If a firefighter finds an overloaded attic space, the Heavy Content should be transmitted.

4)      Hoarded Cars: Why this is not a concrete declaration, a discovery of a hoarder condition in their car can clue you into a possible heavy content environment inside the home.

 

These are some quick tips to review with your firefighters, both young and old.  If you see something say something.  Make the call to announce a heavy content environment to everyone on scene and responding to make sure we all identify, adjust, and attack these Hoarder Fires.
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Overhauling a Hoarder Fire

One common factor that keeps coming up during the my research of fires in Hoarding conditions is the increase danger to firefighters.  One of the most dangerous times of the

[caption id="attachment_220" align="alignright" width="144"]Be Prepared For Overhaul Dangers Be Prepared For Overhaul Dangers


firefight is in the overhauling of the fire.  Once the flames have been knocked down and the process of ensuring all the smoldering fires begins firefighters can be exposed to a number of dangers.  Let us take a look at some of the dangers you may be faced with when overhauling a Hoarder Fire.

Structural Damage

A huge point of learning that I drive home during my hoarder fires class is the need of understanding that hoarding conditions can cause structural damage before the first drop of water is applied.  Cluttered houses make it near impossible to maintain, evaluate, or repair damaged support members. Common situations seen include rotting wood, termite damage, and water damage that does unnoticed for an extended amount of time. Adding to this problem is the weight of the belongings. Then expose them to fire and you have a recipe for a structural collapse in the making.

 



With these conditions in mind one of the first evaluations that needs made is the condition of the structural supports once the fire has been placed under control  Making a path that leads to an inspection point should be a top priority as ceilings need pulled and measure of burn is estimate.  There have been many occurrences of floors completely burning through floor trusses and the floor comes to rest on the hoard.  If the floor feels “spongy” in heavy contents conditions it’s time to get everyone out as this could be what’s causing the condition.

Lingering Toxins

The dangers of the byproducts of incomplete combustion, otherwise known as smoke, are hammered home to firefighters everywhere.  Exposure to these carcinogens can be at the greatest risk during the overhaul phase of a fire.  Many firefighter’s let their guard down as the smoke isn’t as thick or dense, then remove their SCBA exposing themselves to carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde, to name a few.  This danger has been addressed in many departments but in hoarding conditions, the danger is increased.  Deep seeded, smoldering piles of debris can be found hours into the overhaul process.  When “digging” in make sure to expect these toxins may be present and protect yourself by continuing to wear your SCBA.

Air monitoring a fire during the overhaul process has always been a good practice.  During overhauling a hoarder condition more monitoring can be helpful.  Due to the amount of clutter and reduced airflow each room that firefighters are working in should be monitored for air quality to insure firefighters are not being exposed.

 

PPV during Overhaul

Using PPV during this phase is another good way of removing the toxins.  Positive Pressure Ventilation is a concerning topic in hoarding conditions for two reasons. 1) Dangers of increasing the fire volume, rapidly, 2) fueling smoldering piles in different rooms.  Both of these reasons are why I have shied away from suggested using PPV.  One area that I would recommend its use is during the overhaul phase as one concern should have been illuminated. Once the “main body” of fire has been knocked down and we have switched to the overhaul phase the danger will be lessoned.

This still leaves the danger of smoldering piles of debris in multiple rooms. We should always keep this danger in our minds if PPV is chosen.  Firefighters inside the building during they overhaul phase have the chance to be trapped by fire if the smoldering pile flares up.  To insure that PPV is used safely each group overhauling should have a charged hoseline, make sure they have a secondary means of egress, and good coordination with command in the timing of PPV use.

 

Hoarder fires are NOT normal structural fires.  They are a complex fire that has many different issues that must be addressed, including the overhaul phase.  This article has covered just 3 of the many dangers.  Review these dangers with your crew to prepare them to dig in when the overhaul phase begins!  S
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Hoarder Homes: Piles of Hazards for Firefighters



Hoarder Fire


Monday January 14, 2012


1300 EDT



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