Overhauling a Hoarder Fire

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

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


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

Structural Damage

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

 



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

Lingering Toxins

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

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

 

PPV during Overhaul

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

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

 

Hoarder fires are NOT normal structural fires.  They are a complex fire that has many different issues that must be addressed, including the overhaul phase.  This article has covered just 3 of the many dangers.  Review these dangers with your crew to prepare them to dig in when the overhaul phase begins!  S
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Friday, 22 November 2019
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