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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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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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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Hoarder Fire Survey Results



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

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


Yes: 100%             No   0.00%







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


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







3.       Were their occupants trapped:


Yes: 11.0%           No: 89.0%







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


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





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


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


More than normal: 6.1%






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


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


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





7.       Was structure demolition required to extinguish the fire?


Yes: 13.6              No: 86.4%





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


Yes: 79.3%           No: 22.0%




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





 Thank you to all who took part in this survey!


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

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

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

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


Do not be judgmental

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

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



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

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

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

Explain what is happening

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

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

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

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

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


Move them away

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

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

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

 

Conclusion:

Understanding the complexity of Compulsive Hoarding Disorder will allow you insight into dealing with the men and woman who suffer from this disorder.  It has proven that hoarding can lead to a multitude of problems from health concerns to working house fires.  One problem that we should prepare for is interacting with the people who live inside these cluttered environments and develop some strategies to deal with the potential for danger to them and us. We are sworn to protect life and property our safety is always first on the list.  By safely developing a means of interaction with people who has this disorder will allow us to help everyone in and around the hoarded environment.
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Tragic Case of Hoarder Fire

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Heavy Content =Not a “Normal” Fire

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

Using a 380 Size up

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

The Structure can be weakened BEFORE the Fire

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

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

Call for help early

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

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


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

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



Highrise Fire Audio in Hoarding Conditions

Read more from Firefighting in Canada

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

 

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

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

Lack of Maintenance

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


 

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



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

Load Levels

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

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

 

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

 

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



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

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

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

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

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