Case Study Citizens Fire Company

Case Study Citizens Fire Company

Citizens-Fire-Company-Case-Study-_20150828-143741_1.pdf

Citizens Fire Company 

Independence Fire Company

February 3 2015

Introduction

Developing the skills and education as a firefighter requires constant evaluation and learning from different sources. Learning from the experiences of others is a good way of learning from others successes and challenges.  This case study was graciously shared by the firefighters of the Citizens Fire Company in Charlestown WV. The transparency of their members in discussing this challenging fire was inspiring.  

Aim 

The aim of this case study and accompanying audio interview is to share the lessons learned from this Heavy Content Fire to help other departments understand the challenges faced that day and how to better prepare for Heavy Content Fires.

Learning Activity 

Review the incident information and discuss the affects of Hoarding. Focus your efforts on how the clutter, confusion, and persistence of the on scene firefighters lead to a successful outcome in challenging conditions. Discuss how building construction, fire volume, cluttered conditions, and hazards can lead to danger. Listen, read, and then apply the lessons learned to your operational methods to have a better understanding. 

Case Audio

 

http://traffic.libsyn.com/jumpseatradio/Citizens_fire_Company_Case_Study_.mp3

 

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It must be the Air: The Importance of Air in Heavy Content Fires

It must be the Air: The Importance of Air in Heavy Content Fires

As you look into the basic physics of fire there are three elements needed to support combustions (burning): heat, fuel, and oxygen. Out of the three elements needed, one of these has a heightened level of importance when you are fighting fires in heavy content conditions.

Would it be the heat? There is a noted presence of heat and it can be reduced. However,will you have the opportunity to remove enough of the heat, could you stop the burning process, so it's not heat. Consider the fuel, if the firefighters are able to remove the cluttered items from the burn area, would that extinguish the fire? If that process is ineffective then we know it is not fuel. That leaves air, it must be the air!

To understand the importance of air in the heavy content fires, consider structures that are loaded full of belongings from years of collecting and how they will provide endless amounts of fuel. In fact, many of these fires have enough fuel to burn for days. By considering fire tactics that eliminate heat and fuel and realizing how difficult they can be, it will allow the focus to fall directly on the available air. Air can have a huge influence on fire growth, but in hoarding conditions it most often is the variable that has the most influence. The amount of air available will determine if the fire will progress to decay or progress into the growth phase of a fire.

There are so many scenario's to consider in heavy content fire, but for the purpose of this article consider that there was a fire in a sealed basement or home that had fully functional windows and doors. In that situation, the amount of air could be minimal; depending on what doors might be open, the level of clutter, and the location of the fire. These variables could affect the how long a fire could burn without being discovered which would give the fire enough time to cause significant damage to floor and roof joists as well as floor decking. Add in the weight from the clutter and a pending collapse could be near, again all of this could happen before the fire is discovered.

Taking the time to study and understand theses variables will give firefighters a better knowledge of the added dangers posed by extreme clutter and prompt a more thorough size up. Being aware of these three variables when you arrive to a reported structural fire and seeing that the property has the external signs of hoarding (such as cluttered yards), officers need to investigate for signs of extended burn times. The best method would be to do a thermal imaging 360 size-up to discover the hottest parts of the structure while also indicating where the coldest area's are located, keeping in mind you are looking to see where the fire is presently and where it will go if you give it air.

Finding fires in the decay stage should raise suspicion of an extended burn time, while finding a fire well into the growth phase could indicate a ventilated fire. Both of these findings could indicate extended burn times. Just because the fire has progressed into the growth phase does not indicated shorter burn times. It indicates that the fire has found an air source.

If the fire is in this vent limited state firefighters should try to do everything possible to keep it that way. Leaving windows, doors, and stacks of clutter in place to limit the fresh air intake will allowing enough time for the appropriate staffing levels to arrive, limit fire spread, and keep the fire smaller. By limiting the air and fire growth it will make the conditions better for attack or rescue(If needed)

Without control of the air, loss of multiple windows or the inability to close doors, firefighters should set up for defensive operations that employ large caliber streams placed outside the collapse zone. Heavy Content conditions that are feed with large amounts of air will progress quickly. Often surpassing the GPM of standard sized handlines. If these variables are uncontrollable firefighters should assume the fire will continue to intensify even if handlines are in place.

Utilizing corners of the building to place apparatus, stream reach, and hose lengths will keep firefighters away from the dangers of collapse or overgrown trees. It will also give a area of refuge if the yard is full of clutter and the fire extends to that clutter. Fire extending to yard clutter can rapidly spread across the tops of the stacks as it will have all the air needs. Wind conditions can cause this horizontal spread to reach speeds faster than firefighters running in turnout gear. It is essential for firefighters to pay close attention if the fire extends into the yard and perform a quick retreat to prevent this potential disaster.

Controlling the air is essential when battling homes with unlimited amounts of fuel. Having control can allow for a rescue or interior push, while not having control is a indicator of defensive operation until enough water can be applied and/or air control can be established.

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Police Officers Save Woman from Hoarder Fire

CHP-Patrol

By ABC7.com staff Friday, February 13, 2015 11:45PM ENCINO, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California Highway Patrol officers rescued an elderly woman living in pack rat conditions who was trapped by flames in her Encino home near the 101 Freeway on Friday. The officers happened to be driving by. "We heard screaming coming from the other side of the house," California Highway Patrol Officer Edward Diffner said. "She was lying on the floor, 4 or 5 feet from the house, and she was screaming for our help," CHP Officer Kevin Mendel said. Crews responded to the one-story home in the 15000 block of Magnolia Boulevard near Densmore Avenue at about 5:50 p.m. Two people, an elderly woman and a man, were treated by firefighters at the scene. The woman was transported to a nearby hospital and was treated for moderate burns and smoke inhalation. She was in fair condition. The fire was confined to the one-story home, but excessive storage made it difficult to put out the flames. Fifty-five firefighters spent more than two hours battling the blaze. No firefighters were injured. The home was heavily damaged. The cause of the fire has not been determined. Neighbors were grateful for the CHP officers who arrived on the scene. "They did a great job, fast, good, very good," witness Sam Volchauck said.

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Washington DC 2-Alarm Fire with Heavy Content Challenges

Washington DC 2-Alarm Fire with Heavy Content Challenges

News article courtesy of Maryland Fire News 

Read more Here 

Date: January 20th, 2015
Time: 09:20 hours
City: Northeast
County: Washington DC
Address: 1100blk Oates Street Northeast
Type: 2nd Alarm Apartment Fire

Details:

Companies were dispatched for the reported apartment fire.  Engine Company 3 arrived with fire showing from a 2 story apartment building.  Battalion Chief 2 arrived establishing command.  Interior crews reported heavy fire in an apartment on the first floor with hoarding conditions.  Engine Company 8 advanced a line to the floor above.  Companies on the 2nd floor were met with heavy fire conditions and holes in the floor.  Command requested the 2nd Alarm as interior crews were getting a knock on the fire.

The bulk of the fire was knocked down in 20 minutes with all searches coming up with negative results.  Command held Engines 3, 8 and 16, Truck 15 and 2 approx 40 minutes into the incident.

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Raw Video Hoarding Apt. Fire Maryland

hoarder-fires-2017



Great footage from Statter911.com of a three alarm fire in PG county Maryland that was complicated by Hoarding Conditions.  This is a great reminder that Heavy Content conditions can be found in any occupancy.  It is common to find these conditions in multi-family dwellings.  The case study from 200 Wellesly Ave in Toronto is a HUGE reminder of Hoarding in a High Rise occupancy.

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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. 

 
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Often Ignored Hoarding Dangers

How much risk are you willing to take?  While attending the 2013 Ohio Fire and EMS expo in Columbus Ohio last week it seemed clear that first responders don’t fully understand Hoarding Dangers and how they can affect safety.  Having the opportunity to travel and meet the brave men and women who serve as first responders is a HUGE honor.  In this past week’s travel is where this lack of understanding became crystal clear in these conversations.It’s like clockwork that when someone hears that I am studying responses in Hoarding Conditions they immediately start into a story of a response.  These stories always involve the words “lucky” and/or “fortunately” something happened or it could have been bad.  As an educator these words are like fingernails on a chalkboard.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="265"] Hoarding Dangers: Glassware Image from http://hoardingwoes.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/hoarding-the-glassware/


I would like to share two conversations that came from Ohio.  Sharing these conversations is not a judgmental or an effort to “bash” anyone, but rather an attempt for everyone to learn from their experience.

Hoarding Danger in Piles:

The most troubling story was, by far, the firefighter who described a fire where they had to crawl over piles and piles of belongings to fight the fire.  They described hoarding at a level 3 and went on to explain that the interior firefighters had to crawl over multiple stacks of belongings to access the fire, which sounded rather small.

The conversation described the difficulties of traversing the stacks and how “lucky” they were to make the fire room and have a successful firefight.  With the hair standing up on the back of my neck I began to question them and after some time the “I never thought of that’s came”.  Often we all don’t think of a certain danger until someone exposes us to it.  Their response is common when dealing with hoarding conditions.  Without being judgmental we should all be exposed to the danger possessed by the stacks of stuff.

Let’s review some of the factors and why firefighters should not crawl over stacks of stuff and exactly how dangerous it is.

  • Stability of the Piles

  • What are the Stacks Comprised of (magazines, books, Glassware)

  • Collapse Risk

  • Entrapment dangers (wires, yarn, extension cords)

  • Weight of the firefighter

  • Need for rapid escape

  • Height of Stacks (putting firefighter closer to the ceiling and hotter temps)


Each of the above danger can place a firefighter in a life or death situation at a moment’s notice.  Mix one with another and a recipe for disaster is on the horizon.

Example: Firefighters making an interior push choose to crawl over a stack of glassware. The weight of each firefighter plus gear added to the instability of the stacks causes a collapse of the stack downward then adding a side collapse covering the firefighters with sharp glass.

You can see the dangers in the above example.  Not knowing what is in the piles of belongings should be the number one reason why we should NOT crawl over stacks of belongings.  Adding the weight of a firefighter to an unstable situation can lead to a mayday.   Do the occupants crawl over the stacks or walk around them?

Occupants use the pathways to access the usable space inside the house and so should we.  Using the “goat paths” for interior access is the safest way to gain interior access without collapsing piles of belongings on beneath the firefighters.  Think about walking to the stage of a theater, would you crawl over the rows of seats or use the isle to access the stage.

It was a Clean Hoarder House:

Another hoarding story from this trip was a assistance call where they described a Clean Hoarder Environment.  This mindset is troubling because of the hidden dangers that may not be seen because of the accumulation of belongings.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] How clean can it be. Hoarding Dangers


While the environment may look “clean” from the view point of a responder, do we truly know what lies beneath the hoard.  Without access to walls, rooms, and the inability to see the floor do we truly know what’s underneath the stacks of stuff.  The answer is NO.

 

Stacks of belongings in the home can hide dangers for first responders.  Rodents, insects, mold, and animal excrement’s can all be dangerous to responders and all can be hiding beneath stacks of stuff that appear to be clean.  Without the ability to clean and maintain a home, due to the hoarding, the occupant may never truly have the ability to clean, sanitize, or remove problem areas.  This accumulation can be dangerous for them and us.

If you find a hoarding condition that must be entered we MUST assume the worse situation possible and choose to wear our PPE properly.  Assuming that the hoarding area is “clean” is an assumption that can lead to Bio Hazard exposure.  Once discovered we should take the appropriate precautions and choose to wear ALL of our PPE to make sure we don’t care these dangers home to our families.

 

Review:

Emergencies in hoarding conditions should be identified, adjusted for, and then attacked with different approaches by all first responders.  Crawling over debris and not choosing to wear proper PPE are just two dangers that could cause injury or death.  Make the choice to avoid them both when, not if, you are called to enter the hording environment.

 

 
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Hoarding Dangers for First Responders

Hoarder Fire

Since the days of the Collyer Brothers, in Manhattan, first responders have been dealing with the excessive accumulation of belongings caused by compulsive hoarding disorder. We have just “dealt” with the challenges and continued on our way to solve the problem. Today we are seeing an abundance of these types of emergencies.  Many different theories exist on why we are seeing an increase in the number of compulsive hoarders, but without a doubt emergency responders are seeing an, almost, epidemic level of responses inside hoarding conditions.

Compulsive Hoarding disorder is defined as: The accumulation of and failure to discard large amounts of belongings that have little or no value.  This compulsive accumulation eventually takes over their home to where it cannot be used for its intended purpose.

How does this disorder directly affect the first responders?

As the accumulation of belongings start the dangers to the occupants and first responders big to pile up, just like the stacks of stuff.  The challenging environment that follows offers challenges with entry, exit, and an increase in available fuel for a fire.  Along with these challenges firs responders can be faced with multiple biological dangers caused from rodents, human, and animal waste.  Each one of these dangers is major challenges for first responders.

[caption id="attachment_158" align="alignright" width="180"]Photo Courtesy of Twin Cities Fire Wire. Photo Courtesy of Twin Cities Fire Wire.


Who discover these environments?

People that are afflicted with compulsive hoarding disorder are very reclusive and often do not allow people to enter their homes.  Many of these folks feel “embarrassed” or “ashamed” as they are aware of how their disorder is seen by people.  If no one is allowed to enter their home it is common for the first responders are often the first people to discover the conditions. They will keep to themselves until they have a medical emergency, fire, or experience a need to call 911. This call brings the local responders to the environment, often unprepared for what they find.

What are the Cues and Clues that hoarding is Present?

One of the most common questions asked: “Can you tell from the outside of a house that Hoarding conditions exist?”  The answer is, YES.  While it is not a 100% certainty there are some common ques and clues that can lead you to assume that the home is filled with belongings.   Identifying these common clues will lead to a better informed decision making process and adjustments to keep responders safer.

Why did you choose this topic?

Many folks ask why Ryan chose this topic.  Just like many fire departments that call for presentations on this topic my home department ran back to back fires in hoarder conditions.  Much like most to Google I went and what was discovered was amazing, NOTHING.  Keyword searching for Hoarder Fires, Hoarding Firefighting, Hoarding dangers to First Responders, and others resulted in large amounts of documentation of the Mental Health Aspects of this disorder, but no attention was being given to the first responders who go rushing in…

How often are these emergencies happening?

It seems like every day another story of a hoarding emergency is being reported, somewhere in the world.

Here are some links from the Past week:

Baldwin Fire Company

Wayland Massachusetts

Evendale Ohio

These are just three examples in the past number of weeks.

How can the Chamber of Hoarders Learning Center Help?

With training budgets shrinking faster than a sinking ship, we searched for an affordable alternative to offer our class to the fire-ems service.   From these request the chamber of Hoarders Learning Center was born.  It is a 24-7, 365, accessible, and affordable option for responders to sit through 4 plus hours of education.  It can be viewed on mobile, desktop, tablet, or any device with internet access.chamber_hoarders_special_offer

Do you travel to present?

Yes, Ryan Pennington has presented his program to over 600 first responders in 2013.  If you are interested in hosting a program contact  Ryan33@suddenlink.net  Make sure to watch the presentation page for upcoming dates of presentations
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Hoarder Firefighting: In a mess, use your PASS

[caption id="attachment_40" align="alignright" width="180"]Hoarder Fire Hoarder fire. Picture Courtesy of sdfirephotos.com


Are you prepared to call a mayday, right now?  One of the most often asked question from my students is how do you know when you should call a mayday.  The answer always comes back to, anytime you can’t get yourself out or find yourself in need of assistance, PERIOD!  There are many situations that require a firefighter calling the mayday and one that holds true is a firefighter who finds themselves inside the trenches of a Hoarder Home.  Without knowing, an interior structural firefighter can find themselves with stacks of belongings that can extend up to ceiling level causing a huge problem in advancing hoses, searching for victims, and any other fire ground tasks.

How far do you push into these conditions?  At what point do you call a mayday?

These are two questions that should be considered by the individual firefighter while using some common variables.

  • How high are the stacks of Stuff

  • Are we experiencing small collapse of belongings


How high:


Determining the level of belongings can alter an interior attack.  Making this determination can be the challenge due to smoke conditions. Using the stream of your hose or an extended hand tool can give you an estimate of how high the stacks are.  If you carry a 24-36 in haligan you could use it to sweep above your head to determine the height.  If you choose this technique you will need to be mindful of the location of the other firefighters with you.

Either choice of techniques should be used with caution as the resulting collapse could cover up unannounced victims, secondary means of egress, or uncover hidden pockets of fire.  Most often the only part of the hoarder stacks that are burning are the top layer.  By knocking over the stacks you could expose more fuel, maybe even more flammable fuels such as newspapers that were once insulated from the heat source.

Collapsing Stuff:


Whether it’s caused by your sweeping tool or just by itself falling debris should be considered when inside the hoarder environments.  Often the pathways, or “goat paths” , that traverse the interior of the hoarding can be narrowed to a level that causes the advancing firefighter to knock stuff over, just by traveling through them.

 Hoarding Mess:


These two variables should be considered if you find yourself inside the hoarder environment.  Both can cause an added level of danger to an interior firefighter. Often, hoarding conditions can NOT be identified from the exterior of a building.  This can expose an interior firefighter to the dangers once they have passed the point of no return (5 feet inside a structure).

If you find yourself in this condition take these two variables into consideration when determining how far you want to push inside.

If you are experiencing ceiling level stuff or collapsing debris it might not be a fight that you want to take on. Even worse, if these conditions cause you to become disoriented, entangled or low on air make sure that you are ready to call the mayday and activate your pass alarm.  It is better to call and cancel the mayday, than to find yourself in a collapsed stack of stuff and running out of air.

If you’re in a mess, use your pass and make sure that hoarding doesn’t trap you inside without a way to escape a rapidly progressing fire condition!

If you would like to learn more about hoarder firefighting make sure to check out the Learning Center here on ChambeofHoarders.com.   4 + hours of content on Hoarder Firefighting 
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Overhead View of Hoarder Homes

Without a doubt, the number one question asked is “How can I tell if the home is a Hoarder Home”.  The answer: You will need to look for the Cues and Clues of Clutter. If you are driving your district, running medical emergencies, or driving home from work you should be on the lookout for the hoarded homes in your district.  Knowing the conditions BEFORE a fire happens will make you better prepared when you arrive.  How do you find a hoarder home?  Let’s look and a new approach to identifying a clutter home in your district.

Street Level View

As we drive the streets in our districts we should be on the lookout for unique challenges.  These include a hoarder home and the potential for a response.  When driving past these homes you should be looking out for some typical cues:

  • Hoarded front yards

  • Large privacy fence covering back yard

  • Cluttered front porches

  • Blocked windows

  • Overgrown shrubs, bushes or trees

  • Multiple vehicles in yard that are full


These cues and clues should trigger a need for further investigation.  If you suspect one or more of the above you should begin to investigate a little deeper, but how?

[caption id="attachment_543" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Aerial view of a Cluttered House Aerial view of a Cluttered House


Overhead View

Without an invitation or a need we cannot enter your property but the eye in the sky always knows.  Taking to your computer and using tools such as Google earth can let you get a bird’s eye view of the property to confirm your suspicions.  Find a point of interest, address, or something to give you a reference point and view the property from overhead.  This perspective will allow you to view the backyard, side yard, and potentially the windows without physically walking the property.

 Read More about Pre-Fire Planning Here:

http://chamberofhoarders.com/3-things-your-department-should-do-about-hoarding/

 

Read more about Non-Fire Dangers in Hoarder Homes Here:

http://chamberofhoarders.com/hoarder-homes-more-dangers-than-fire/
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Common findings: Hoarding Conditions on a Medical Call





[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"] Picture from MetroDailynews.com



FRAMINGHAM —




For the second time in 16 months, authorities are investigating hoarding at a Winter Street home.

On Tuesday, the fire department went to 124 Winter St. for a medical call around 1:15 p.m. after the 83-year-old man who lived in the home was found on the ground outside, Deputy Fire Chief Anthony Pillarella said.

"Inside of the home there was unhealthy conditions," the deputy chief said.

Pillarella would not describe the conditions in the home, only to say, "They were bad enough that we called the Board of Health and the police."

Because the man was not home when the Board of Health arrived, they could not enter the home without his permission, the deputy chief said. The man was taken to MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham to be evaluated and treated.

A Framingham police crime scene photographer, wearing booties over his normal shoes, took photos inside the home.

Read more Information Here:

http://chamberofhoarders.com/hoarder-homes-more-dangers-than-fire/

http://chamberofhoarders.com/managing-the-mess-can-we-really-go-inside/



Read more: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/x1837074408/Framingham-investigates-hoarding-at-Winter-Street-home#ixzz2ccHL1Fdd
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Hoarder Homes: If the Clutter don’t Kill You…..

After spending the last two days reviewing pages and pages of tragic events, which lead to a Line of Duty Death, searching for the effects of clutter, hoarding, or large amounts of debris. A huge point of learning kept coming up.  It wasn't the clutter that killed the firefighter; it was the clutter that kept the firefighter from being able to escape the primary killer….a rapid fire event or collapse.

[caption id="attachment_505" align="alignright" width="135"]Hoarding Photo Courtesy of the Dix Hills Fire Dept,


This point of learning kept me up all night long trying to figure out how to share this information with all firefighters in a sensitive, yet stern way. The last thing that any of us should do is disrespect a fellow firefighter when learning how they died, but we all should honor them by learning the how’s and why’s.

How’s and why’s constantly included these factors.

  1. Extended burn times

  2. Hidden pockets of fire.

  3. Elevated collapse risks

  4. Blocked secondary means of egress


While some had one, most had two or three of the above factors that contributed to the death of a firefighter.  We can make adjustments for these factors, most of us do. But we need to make sure that we are adjusting for them ALL.  One can be dangerous, but combine multiple factors together, and it is a firefighter killer.

We need to take some steps to make sure we don’t underestimate our enemy, the fire.  Using some common assessments during the firefight can give you a buffer of safety and keep you thinking about the potential for death.

1)      Double burn time estimates

2)      Use outside crews to coordinate secondary means of egress

3)      Scan the building for exits while approaching

4)      Constant updates to command as your hose advance progresses

5)      Be aware of Hidden Fire

Keeping these tips and keeping your head will allow you to expect the unexpected, when dealing with the large amounts of clutter.  Adjusting how we operate in a hoarding situation will allow us to search, attack, and overhaul the home safely.

HOARDER HOMES ARE NOT BREAD AND BUTTER FIRES……...

Make sure you Identify, adjust, and attack to make sure we all come home safe!!!!!!
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Keep the stuff off us: Stabilizing the Piles of a Hoarder Homes

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"] Hoarder Fire NSW Fire Department


One question that keeps coming up, time and time again, when dealing with hoarder homes, is how do we keep the piles of belongings stable and prevent them from falling on us or the occupant.  This is a challenging question with a multiple different answers, dependent on the situation.  From fighting a fire to removing a patient on an ems run this challenge can be met head on to keep the stuff off of us. Let’s look at a few simple ways to keep the massive amount of belonging in their place while we perform our tasks.



Firefighting:

The most challenging part of fighting a fire in hoarder conditions is keeping the belongings in the same place.  From a VEIS search to advancing a hoseline dealing with the stacks will be difficult.  One way of stabilizing these piles is to avoid them at all costs.  The clinical term used is “Goat Paths” and this is how the occupant accesses their home.  By using these pathways will allow you to minimize the movement of the belongings, if the pathways are wide enough to allow.  Enviably you will know some things over, but if you make an effort to keep the hose low on the stacks and crawl toward the bottom of the pile you can help prevent a collapse.

While staying low will not be an end all, cure all it will use the base to keep them in place. Another benefit in staying low is to avoid the heat that you will be exposed to if you choose to go over the piles of belongings.  Every 12 or so inches equals 100 degrees and with some hoarding conditions that means a 200 degree spike.

If you can’t stay low you may be creative in your thought process.  Bringing an attic ladder, or two, or a salvage cover can offer you a tool to help keep the stuff in place.  If you choose an attic ladder, try to place it at waist level, when standing, to stabilize the middle of the pile.  This will be a labor intensive task and you will need to pay close attention to your air supply.  Often times there will not be enough space to lay it flat, so you will need to angle it upward to the ceiling level to capture as much surface area as possible.  Choosing a salvage cover will also be challenging.  Pre-rigging it for a quick and sometimes not complete deployment will be needed.   If fire conditions allow you can carry it inside and deploy it over the pile.  The cover will need to have some weight to it, not the lighter weight blue style.  During this process you may need to knock over some of the pile to help stabilize it.  When choosing this method a thermal imagining camera and due diligence is needed to make sure you are NOT exposing the firefighters or cover to high heat conditions.

Accessing the exterior:

One pressing problem with hoarding is accessing the exterior of the home.  From collections in the back yard to side yard full of belongings gaining access can be a hazardous.  Using some of the above mentioned tactics can be used, but also using ground ladders to stabilize the outside belongings may also be used. Laying it on top, to the side, or a combination of both can be used to make pathways of access.  Removing of privacy fencing of other barriers may be necessary to make this achievable due to the fact that they often use them to “Hide” their hoard.

You may also choose to use a salvage cover in combination with grounds ladders to make a stable environment as well.  Much like a ladder chute, to collect water, you can use two ladders and a salvage cover to make pile of belongings more stable to walk around, or worst case, climb over.   Climbing over these massive amounts of material can be challenging even with chutes and ladders to help offer stability.

 

Conclusion

From stabilizing the piles to maneuvering around them entering a hoarded environment offers man challenges.  Taking the time to stabilize the pile will allow you a greater level of safety as your exit routes will stay clearer.  One thing needs to be remembered when crawling in, your way out may become blocked, no matter how hard you try.  Using the paths to fight a fire or access a patient is a “best practice” when dealing with hoarding.  Getting creative and using some technical rescue skills will also allow you to enter and exit safely.  Remember that unless you practice these you WILL NOT be proficient at them.  Add some of these recommendations to your next drill and see if you can stabilize the stacks……..
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Clutter Fire in Bakersfield California



Story From 23ABCnews Bakersfield 

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A messy home made for difficult conditions during an early-morning fire in Northwest Bakersfield.

The fire started at approximately 2:00 a.m. Tuesday in the attic of a small house on Gulf Street.

Firefighters with the Kern County Fire Department said they had a hard time locating the home's address.  The house was built in a primarily industrial area north of Gilmore Drive and west of Highway 99.

When crews arrived on-scene, they said the firefighting effort was made difficult because the home was cluttered with lots of items.

A woman living inside the home managed to escape unharmed.  No firefighters were injured in the blaze, and there is no estimate on damages.
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Heavy Content Fire Russellville Pa

By Assistant Fire Chief Sam Terry


[caption id="attachment_387" align="alignright" width="198"]Pictures Courtesy of Oxford Fire Department Pictures Courtesy of Oxford Fire Department


April 30, 2013

***WITH AUDIO***

Box 2104

At 0643 hours, the Union Fire Company No. 1 and the Cochranville Fire Company (27) was alerted for a reported house on fire in the 200 block of Old Limestone Road in the Russellville section of Upper Oxford Township.



Engine 27-2 was the first to arrive reporting smoke showing. The Engine pulled into the driveway and the crew deployed an 1.75" into the house.

Assistant 21 (Terry) arrived immediately after and established the "Old Limestone Command" and requested the Box to be filled. This added the Bart Township Fire Company (51) and the West Grove Fire Company (12/22/32).

[caption id="attachment_388" align="alignright" width="275"]Courtesy of Oxford Pa Fire Department Courtesy of Oxford Pa Fire Department


Engine 21-1 (Capt. Obenchain) arrived and took the end of the driveway. The crew stretched a 5" supply line to Engine 27-2 and then went into the scene and deployed a second 1.75" handline.

Crews encountered intense heat and smoke throughout the house as they attempted to advance. Due to the interior conditions, both crews backed out and began an exterior attack.

Read More Here 

Audio From Fire Here 

 

Chamber of Hoarder Learning Points:



  • First arriving supervisor called for the second alarm immediately

  • Interior crews pulled out once they discovered the heavy contents

  • Crews attacked from the sides

  • Rehab sector was established and extended

  • Overhaul was extended to account for the amount of belongings

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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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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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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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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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