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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Hoarder Home: If you see something, say something!

Welcome back into the chamber of hoarders.  After some time away we are back and well into summer preparing emergency responders to face the challenges of compulsive hoarding disorder environments.  This week we are going to look back at a training topic that we have visited before, with a new twist.  It is vitally important to allow firefighters to communicate their findings on each response; this is even truer when faced with massive amounts of clutter found inside hoarder homes.  From pulling on scene to making a interior attack, each and every firefighter should be taught what to say, who to say it too, and how to say it when a hoarding environment is suspected.  Example, “ interior to command we are experiencing Heavy Content”, “command received.”  Often this is where this line of communication ends, not allowing incoming units or firefighters that didn’t receive this message aware of the potential for danger.  It’s time for us to change how we process, receive, and announce situations.

 

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


Firefighter Level

Being the eyes and ears of the responders is a role that each firefighter should be given.  Constantly scanning, evaluating, and searching for potential dangers should be trained on until they become automatic. During this training is where we should introduce them to cues and clues that a hoarding situation is present.



Here are a few:

  • Blocked doors and Windows

  • Cluttered yards or Porches

  • Cars Full of Belongings


If you encounter any of these situations a message should be transmitted to command.  Announcing the presence of hoarding conditions will put everyone in a more defensive mindset and allow the commander to call for additional resources.  Extra manpower, more apparatus, and needed rehab sector are all areas that need reinforced when dealing with hoarder conditions.  If the IC doesn’t know they need them, why would they call for them?  Make the call, even if you are wrong.  If they are not needed they can be released and returned to service.

 

 

 

Incident Commanders

Being in command of a fire when the announcement of heavy contents is made requires some direct actions.  First action is to communicate the findings to the dispatch center to share the message with everyone responding and on scene. Second action is to call for more help.  With hoarding conditions firefighters air consumption will be greater, thus lowering their work time and will need a longer rehab period because of the stresses placed on them while working in these overloaded spaces.  Knowing this a commander should request additional units to respond to the scene. Third action should be a second rapid intervention team.  If a firefighter is inside and experiences a Mayday, it will require a larger number of firefighters to access and remove them.

A good rule of thumb for any commander is the rule of doubles.  If you discover hoarding double the number of firefighters, RIT team members, and double the rehab time allowing your firefighters to adequately recover from the larger workload. The worst thing that you could do is place your firefighters into a stressful environment and not allow them time to recover before going back.

Conclusion

If you see something, say something!

If you hear something, Dispatch Something!

 

If you allow your firefighters to make the announcement of a potential hoarding situation it will allow all commanders to use the rule of doubles and call for the help needed.  Hoarding can place us all at a greater risk do to the compression of belongings that has taken years to accumulate.  Make the adjustments if you are faced with these conditions and make sure we all go home!
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Hoarder Fire Training



On Saturday May 11,2013 Jumpseat Training brought a new level of training to the West Virginia Public Safety Expo in Charleston WV.  Expanding their wildly popular classroom session, Hoarder Home's Piles of Hazards for Firefighters, to include a hands on session.  Evolution's within simulated Hoarding conditions added a new level of learning and perspective to the class. This was the first time for "hands on" evolution on Hoarder Fire Training.

Allowing students to experience the challenges faced with hoarding conditions took the learning to the next level.  When firefighters are faced with hoarding conditions they must change how they operate to remain oriented to their location and adjust how the search inside these conditions.

Many great learning points were discovered by students and instructors. Jumpseat Training would like to send out a HUGE thank you to the foll0wing supporters for making this session a overwhelming success:

WV Public Safety Expo

Resa III

Drager Thermal Imaging

BullEx Smoke Generator 

Darin Virag, Training Captain Charleston WV Fire Department

FoxFury Lighting Solutions 

FDcam.com

Look for more hands on training from Jumpseat Training Soon!

 

 
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Hoarder Fire Rekindles 3-Times

One complication that firefighters face inside a home that has hoarding conditions is the need for extensive overhaul.  Stacks of compressed belongings can lead to an extended overhaul and often will reveal hidden pockets of fire.  This news video shows an example of the complications of overhauling a hoarder fire as they were called back three times for rekindles.  There are only a few options when dealing with hoarder fires and overhaul.  Keep an eye out soon for more from ChamberofHoarders.com

 

News9.com - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

 

Here is a Link to a previous article on Overhauling Hoarder Fires 
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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: Choosing the Right Words

[caption id="attachment_114" align="alignright" width="300"]Hoarder Fire Photo Courtesy of Keven Smith Hoarder Fire Photo Courtesy of Keven Smith


During the past two years I have spent much time and energy studying all aspects of emergency responses inside hoarding conditions.  There is one key point that consistently comes up, interacting with the occupants.  Hoarding or “Compulsive Hoarding” is “the accumulation of and failure to discard a large number of objects that seem to be useless or of limited value, extensive clutter in living spaces that prevents the effective use of the space causing significant distress or impairment caused by hoarding” (Frost and Hartl..1996). The affects of someone having  this disorder takes away the ability to make rational decisions, making process to distinguish between an item with no apparent value and one of great value (example: grocery store coupon vs. baby pictures).   This compulsive behavior can cause problems with first responders when faced with a hoarding situation.  Interaction can prove difficult first due to the unwillingness to leave and second the emotional trauma of strangers touching their “treasures”, understanding and adjusting for these situations is our job to figure out before we run this call.  The first adjustment need to be the terminology that we use.  Let us look at why we should change our terminology to include “Heavy Content” when describing a hoarded environment.


Politically Correct


A very well respected friend of mine that is in a different career once looked me straight in the eye and said “you must be jaded because of all you have seen and dealt with”.  After I digested that statement I realized that is exactly what happens. We are jaded by the countless number of tragic events that we deal with on a daily basis and it most often affects how we interact with someone who is encountering an emergency.   The very first thing that happens to set the tone of the call is how we present our self; this includes body language and the terminology that we choose.  “This is a trash house” or “pack rat conditions” are two terms that first responders use when the discovery of hoarding conditions are found.   How would these terms be received if the occupant overheard their house full of treasures called “trash”?  If someone called you a “pack rat” how would you feel?  They are unable to see their surroundings in your perspective, but it is important for the brief time you spend on the call that you try to see it from theirs.

It is good to remind ourselves of the characteristics of compulsive hoarding disorder.  There is deep emotional attachment to belongings, with the inability to distinguish between trash and treasures.  This compulsion can cause an overload to the occupant if they overheard these terms broadcasted over the radio or yelled out the window.  “Hey chief, this in the interior crews, we have a “trash house”!  this statement seems to be a popular description.  All it would take would be one radio being around the occupants to have a potential for an emergency for them or you.  There have been documented cases of occupants needing to be physically restrained from trying to re-enter a burning home to save their treasures.  Another potential danger is the reaction of the occupant in a violent manner towards the first responders.  Wouldn’t it make all of our shifts easier if we took away this easy negative and replaced it with such an easy fix.

 

Being as compassionate as possible during all emergencies is the best practice scenario for all of us, this remains true when dealing with the occupants of a hoarded environment.  Occupant safety is the biggest concern of any first responder and when the problem is a compulsive hoarder; words can be just as harmful as flames.  Removing terms such as trash house and pack rat conditions will help provide a more neutral environment for the occupant while standardizing the terminology used by first responders.

Heavy Content:  A key term


Another key factor in dealing with hoarded conditions is the amount of belongings and the weight exerted on the structural supports of the building.  Collecting a large amount of belongings can lead to an overloaded structure, even before the first ounce of water is applied.  Using the term “heavy content” should remind all first responders of the overloading potential and collapse risks associated with dealing with a hoarded environment.

A heavy content environment can offer many potential for a collapse, this is usually wither from interior debris falling to a complete collapse of the entire structure.   When a building is over loaded with massive amounts of stuff it has the potential to injure or kill first responders.  Using the heavy content terminology to identify these potential risks should put all responders at a heighten level of awareness to be looking for collapse.  It should also evoke  a thought process needed to identify what is being collected inside the building.  Identifying items such as books, magazines, or car parts can help with the collapse risk assessment.   Another factor that can be used is a hoarding level scale such as the Institute for Challenging Disorganization rating scale of 1-5.  If a level 5 is determined, a No-Entry decision may be the best option.

Conclusion:


Emergency responders are dealing with compulsive hoarding disorder on a daily basis.  There is a huge difference in terminology used worldwide used when describing hoarded conditions, but there is huge effort to change that.  From “Colliers Mansion Syndrome” to “Pack Rat” conditions it seems like your terminology is based on a geographic locations.  It’s time that we standardized terminology to allow us all to understand the conditions, even if we are not familiar with the term.  Heavy Content should be used worldwide to allow a standard, politically correct term to describe these conditions.  It offers cues to us all, even if you have never heard of the term before.  Being mindful of the compulsion and trying to remain respectful to it will allow us to have an improved public perception and protect ourselves from the potential for confrontation with the occupants.

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Adjustments for Hoarder Fires

If you arrive on scene of a structure fire, would you flow water through an open window

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


before making an interior push?  Transitional attack or flowing water through an opening in the exterior of a building, which is on fire, has been an often-debated tactic that had no scientific data to prove or disprove this type of suppression technique, until now.  At this year’s Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis Indiana NIST, with a partnership with the FDNY, presented their findings from a recent study on fire dynamics and tactics used.  The experiments conducted on Randal’s Island looked at different variables such as flow paths, water application, and thermal balances from each.  While watching this ground breaking study one thing kept coming to mind, Hoarder Fires.  Stacks of belongings that have taken over a structure can add a level of danger to any firefighter who makes entry.  It can also affect the variables covered by the NIST study.  Let’s look at a few of the variables exposed by the release of this ground breaking presentation and how they relate to the Hoarded Environment.

Flow Paths


One of the variables released in the study was the flow of super-heated smoke, unburned fuel.  If a firefighter does not ventilate a structure and proceeds through a door, they are crawling right into the “flow path” of heat and smoke. Hearing this information given merit with scientific evidence shouldn’t come as a surprise to any firefighter who has crawled a dark hallway.  Now that we have the data to back up our suspicions let’s take a look at the hoarded environment.

If a house has Heavy Content environment inside it has the potential for having multiple flow paths. Depending on the level of belongings, the airflow can be forced through the narrow pathways formed by the stacks of stuff.  What does this mean to an interior firefighter? Unlike entering a “normal” structure fire, a firefighter may not get relief for the heat like a firefighter who has progressed through a door and moved out of the flow path.  Channeling the heat through pathways can bring the heat directly down on an advancing firefighter. Add a variable, such as stacked belongings that raise a firefighter up to two feet higher, our PPE may be pushed to its limits.

Heat Level Reduction


Another variable revealed in the NIST study was the change in heat levels after the application of water streams.  To summarize the findings they applied water to the first floor fire and measured the second floor temperatures.  The also revealed the difference between an open door and a closed door.  These different variables can be applied to the hoarder fire environment.

First was the evidence of heat reduction with the application of water. It has been believed if we apply water through a window that we reduce the survival chances of a potential victim.  This study proved that if water is applied on a first floor fire the second floor temperatures went down.  If we were truly thinking about how this works it makes since, fire knockdown the heat should be knocked down.  Let us apply these findings to the hoarded environment.  If you apply water to a first floor fire, will there be enough airflow available to cool the upstairs?

Can you isolate a bedroom in hoarded conditions? Hoarder conditions can prevent an occupant or firefighter from closing interior doors.  As the clutter piles up to ceiling level and spills out into the hallways you may not be able to apply either of these two methods.  How does this affect an interior firefighter?  If you make entry into a fire and expect the ability to isolate yourself from the fire by closing an interior door you can be exposing yourself to higher heat levels.  Once a determination has been made that Heavy Contents are present all firefighters must estimate that interior doors will NOT close, due to the level of clutter.

Conclusion


All firefighters should take the time to review the latest release from NIST.  There works have been groundbreaking and this one is no different.  Take an hour out of your hectic schedule to watch and learn.  While you review this material, keep in mind that these rules may or may not apply to the hoarded environment.  Cluttered homes can add variables that will affect each one of their findings.  Blocked flow paths and doors that cannot be closed with complicate the use of these new findings.  While they can NOT be scientifically proven at this time we should all adjust for them if a hoarding condition has been discovered.

Watch the presentation from NIST, FDIC, and FDNY here.

 
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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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Hoarder Homes: More Dangers than Fire

As first Responders we understand the dangers associated with responding to many types IMG_0835of emergencies.  From auto accidents on busy interstates to working house fires with potential hazardous materials we train on these types of events and how to protect ourselves from dangers associated with them. One danger that continues to be overlooked is the exposure risks found inside hoarder homes.  Often with the accumulation of massive amounts of belongings come the associated risks from exposure to many types of infectious disease and bio-hazards materials.  A first responders can be exposed to these dangers when walking into a situation to assist, such as a emergency medical run or assistance call.  Many of us have suspected that the houses we have been going into were dangerous, how dangerous may have been severly underestimated.  Let’s review some of the potential exposures first responders may face inside the hoarded environment.



Air Quality

Airborne contaminants inside a hoarding environment can present dangers not seen by the naked eye.  Often when entering these environments first responders do not take in account the unseen dangers.  From elevated ammonia levels to aerosolized mold anyone who enters these areas unprotected can be facing danger.  These elevated levels can be caused my animal urine, decomposing animals, fecal matter, and mold.

One common risk that can be managed with ventilation is the exposure to ammonia.  Ammonia is a irritant to the eyes and upper airway tract at or below the exposure threshold of 50-PPM (Parts Per Million). Without the proper application of ventilation the responder can be exposed to up to 150 PPM of ammonia.  This is 3 times more than the limit set by OSHA.   Ref.. (The Hoarding of animals Research Consortium) Without accurate gas meters the only detection device we will have in our sense of smell.  If you identify a heavy content environment and begin to smell high ammonia levels do not enter without aggressively ventilate the structure or use a SCBA to reduce the risks when high ammonia levels are present.

 Misc. Exposures

Without understanding the risks first responders are potentially risking their own personal health and safety when entering the hoarded environment.  Here is a list of potential exposures that have been documented inside a hoarded environment.

Human to Human

  • Listeria

  • Hepatitis A and B

  • Scabies

  • Pneumonia

  • Shingle


Animal to Human

  • Tapeworm

  • Hanta Virus

  • Psittacosis

  • Cat Scratch Disease


How many of these diseases are communicable?  Without even knowing that we have been exposed we can take them home to our families, my worst fear.  If we don’t take the time to protect ourselves from exposures we could potentially place our families at risks.

PPE Discussions.

What types of PPE do you carry?  First responders only have a few choices available when selecting respiratory and splash protection.  At a MINIMUM we should be using our N-95 mask and turnout gear when entering a hoarded environment.  While a n-95 might not protect you from all contaminants it will offer some level of protection.  If the levels are extremely elevated a SCBA can be used to enter the environment.  Choosing to use a SCBA is the best option that we have available as first responders but does offer some challenges interacting with the occupant, if conscious.  We will have more info on that coming, but for this article just realizing that you should be wearing one will be enough.

Protecting yourself from contact with biohazards can be another challenge as the belongings will be stacked so  high touching them will be unavoidable.  Using gowns, coveralls, tyvex suits, or turnout gear can offer contact protection as you enter.  While none of these seem practical, except your turnout gear, they should be considered when entering this dangerous environment.  One key point is the potential for patient and/or responder decontamination.

 

 

Conclusion:
First responders worldwide have been dealing with hoarding conditions for years.  When was the last time you considered that the dangers inside can harm you and your family.  Taking the time to identify that hoarding is present, choosing the most appropriate levels of PPE, ventilating the area, and having decontamination available you will increase your safety and reduce the exposure to harmful materials.  Would you ever go into a fire unprotected?  Hoarding conditions can cause multiple problems for first responders and we have the potential to be “Most Exposed” during an assistance or EMS call.  Take the time to identify, adjust, and attack hoarding with the proper level of PPE.
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Mayday sounded at Hoarder Fire



Listen to this bone chilling audio of a firefighter mayday while battling a three alarm fire in Hoarded conditions.  Once the mayday was sounded the interior crews transmitted the announcement of Hoarder Fire .  Sending prayers out to the firefighter who was removed in critical conditions.

Links to News Coverage:

Firehouse

WBAL 
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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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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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Hoarder Fires Prevention

If your house catches fire while you are inside, what would you do?  This message is shared with people of all over the world by first responders.  The question that is asked most often is “how do you get out if a fire happens?”  For a person afflicted with compulsive hoarding disorder this task may not be possible as their exits have slowly became blocked with their collection of belongings.  Cluttered exits, windows, and doors can slow their exits to a point that a rapidly spreading fire can overwhelm them in a matter of seconds.  That is why prevention of fire is such an important message for fire departments. How can we help the afflicted with hoarding and explain the risks associated with fires in hoarded conditions?  Let’s look a little deeper into Hoarder Fires prevention and offer a few quick tips.

It is easy to comprehend that a house filled with belongings such as books, newspapers, and plastic products has a larger amount of fuel available to burn if a fire happens.  This amount of combustible material can make a fire spread rapidly preventing an occupant from escaping.   Most say that fire doubles in size every 30-second, and assuming that this prediction is when normal contents are present imagine how fast a fire could develop if it has access to these combustible materials and a breath of fresh air!



This is why the family, friends, and first responders should have the same mission of helping to offer solutions to this often tragically ending problem.  Offering some simple advise may not be enough to convince someone to let go of their belongings due to the complexity of this disorder, but as first responders we need to keep getting our message to these people and explain the risks associated with hoarder fires to everyone we can reach.  Honesty is best and this is sometimes where we may need to be brutal explaining, “Sir or Ma’am, if your house catches on fire we may not be able to get you out”.  We need to be sure to hammer home the need for there to be more than one exit in the living quarters.

Most of the time, these explanations that we offer may not be enough for someone to seek help for their affliction, we need to keep a constant stream of information to the hoarders and their family.  When fires happen we all use our training and knowledge to help us through, however hoarder fires changes the complexity of the call!  Hoarder fires change the complexity of our job in many ways.  Here are a few suggested tips that need to be started now continued in every fire department:

Tips for Hoarder Fire Safety:

  • Be understanding of the disorder

  • Use EMS runs to gain access to private residences

  • Contact family members

  • Start a public information campaign

  • Allow neighbors to report conditions

  • Add clutter dangers to school programs


First Responders around the world are called upon to enter homes everywhere to assist with various types of emergencies.  Hoarding, though fairly new in recognition, should be near the top of the list on the prevention detail of your fire dept.  A great place to start this discussion is with the children in school. Children can be a huge influence on their parents, by adding some subtle mentions about blocked doors, windows, and clutter to your next fire prevention talk; you can start at the school age with understanding that hoarding can put occupants at a greater risk.  Talking at this age will allow you to start the prevention message before the fire happens and make it safer for the occupants and firefighters.

Preventing fires is a high priority job for every fire department.  Adding information to help friends, family, and occupants of hoarding conditions should be a priority of us all to help keep hoarder fires from happening.
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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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Heavy content fire

[caption id="attachment_323" align="alignright" width="200"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013


[caption id="attachment_324" align="alignright" width="200"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013
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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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Hoarder Fire PG County

 

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

 

http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/03/one-killed-in-cheverly-fire--86910.html

 

 

 

Read more: http://www.myfoxdc.com/story/21840258/woman-found-dead-after-fire-in-cluttered-home#ixzz2PE7RrWco Follow us: @myfoxdc on Twitter | myfoxdc on Facebook
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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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