3 Things Your Fire Department Should do about Hoarding

Since the beginning of my research into responses in hoarding environments, one question

[caption id="attachment_152" align="alignleft" width="158"]Hoarder FIre Hoarder FIre


continually comes up.   What are the most important things my department should do if we are faced with a hoarding condition?  Great question, there are many things that need to change when faced with responses in “heavy content” environments.  Let us take a few moments to review three things that your department should do if you suspect or discover a hoarding conditions in your response area.

Identify potential conditions: 

Identification of hoarding is the first step in making a safer environment.  If you suspect or discover a hoarding environment, spread the word to all members of your department.  Flag the structure with the dispatch center as a “heavy content” structure and begin the preplan process.



Pre planning for Hoarder Response:

  • Identify the level of content 1-5

  • establishing likely living spaces

  • estimating structural compromise

  • identifying blocked windows and doors

  • Determine needed water flow if the house was to become “fully involved”


Many of these steps can be accomplished from the exterior and some may need to be from the interior.  The best time to allow for access to the interior is in the event of a medical emergency.  Once patient care is complete take time to look around or observe while entering to identify the dangers.

Prepare for the inevitable:

Once you have identified a Heavy Content building in your area the preparation for a fire needs to begin.  By preparing your department’s pre-fire plan and reviewing response changes with your personnel.  Just like any pre-planned business or multi-family dwelling, you should review and adjust your plan twice a year.  The heavy content environment can change on a monthly basis as the hoarder collects more belongings, the structure experiences more degradation, and access points become hard to access.

A study from the Melbourne Australia Fire Department and the Wooster Polytechnic Institute showed that only 26% of hoarder houses had working smoke alarms and most fires started as cooking fires.  This means that the likelihood of a fire happening are increased due to the amount of fire hazard present inside these environments, so be prepared.

 Protect your Members

Now that you have identified and prepared the members of your department it is time to offer them some advice to help keep them safe.

Let us review some tips to prepare them:

  • Use your PPE

  • Order additional resources if dispatched to a heavy content address

  • Use the risk/reward mentality in deciding if interior is an option

  • Don’t be afraid to keep the firefighters out of the building


Dealing with responses in hoarding conditions is a complicated situation that requires tactical changes.  These quick tips will start you down the road to a successful operation.  Protecting our responders is job one on any scene, on a  hoarding scene it should stand out even further as the dangers are increased.
Take a moment to review these three tips with your department to start the process of Expecting Hoarding.  With the number of people affected by this disorder growing, the chances that you will be faced with them grow as well.  We all should stand ready to take on this disorder and help the folks that are afflicted.  But even more we should prepare our first responders to make sure we all go home……..

 
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Two Immediate Decisions for a Hoarder Fire

Good afternoon from the Chamber.  Often when we are asked what should we do when Heavy Contents are discovered?  This question has many responses but two should be made IMMEDIATELY.

Announce Heavy Contents


[caption id="attachment_141" align="alignright" width="134"]Hoarder fire Photo Shepardstown WV Fire Dept. Hoarder fire Photo Shepardstown WV Fire Dept.


 

First thing that should happen is the announcement of "Colliers Mansion",  "Heavy Content" or whatever your department uses to identify a large amount of clutter or belongings.  Departments should encourage anyone that makes this discovery to make the announcement.  From the street level jumpseat rider to the high chief anyone should communicate the discovery and command should announce it to all units on scene and responding.  When command communicates this announcement we all should go into a defensive mindset.  Defensive in that we should prepare to deal with collapse risks, entanglement hazards, structural weakness and a general increase in workload.


Request Additional Units


Secondly command should order additional units to the scene.  Whether its a one and one or a complete second alarm you are going to need the additional manpower to mange these conditions.  Firefighters work time will be lower, air supply will not last as long, and the need for fresh crews will be increased as they deal with these piles of belongings.

Having additional firefighters on scene in the staging area and not be needed is whole lot better than having worn out firefighters doing overhaul and pushing themselves beyond exhaustion.  Call early, call often, and rotated out regulatory when facing Heavy Content fires.

Listen to the Below as the Claymont Delaware Fire Department Make a grab in Colliers Conditions.......



 
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Estimating Burn time in Hoarder Fires

One of the most important observation and/or decisions a first arriving officer to a

[caption id="attachment_133" align="alignright" width="180"]Photo By Keven Smith Photo By Keven Smith


structure fire is the estimate of how long the fire has been burning.  This observation can help make the attack strategies, points of entries, and help predict structural collapse times.  One complication that needs adjusted for is the identification of hoarding conditions being present.  Hoarding is defined as “The accumulation of and failure to discard large amounts of belongings that have no apparent value”. These belongings begin to take over the rooms, as they will no longer be used for their intended purpose.  Rooms become storage areas and access is limited to narrow pathways.



With belongings added repeatedly, they become packed from floor to ceiling.  When these levels reach a certain point it will limit natural ventilation and act like an insulator if a fire were to happen.  A small smoldering fire can be hidden inside these conditions for hours if no one is home to discover it.  Conditions where ventilation is limited and fire spread can be hidden by the amounts of belongings will also hide a fire that has progressed into the free burning stage.  Smoke that has filled a, already full, room will be pushed out of different seems, cracks, or may be hidden until someone discovers it and opens a fresh airport such as a window or door.

Let us take some time to review some key points of dealing with burn time estimates in Hoarding Conditions:

  • Hoarding can contain smoke for an extended amount of time

  • Compression of belongings can keep a fire from progressing at its normal rate

  • Stacks of stuff provide for more fuel for the fire

  • A deep seated fire in a Hoarding Condition may have been burning for an extended time


 

Today’s firefighters are facing an overwhelming amount of changes to our fire scenes.  From energy efficient windows to extra security exterior doors, we need to be more vigilant in our responses.  If you discover a Hoarding condition on your next fire, you should make some adjustments immediately.  The first one should be to add time to the burn time estimate.  By doing this you will allow a larger margin of error before sending firefighters into these structures.  Estimating burn time is not an exact science; it is just an educated guess.  After reading this blog post, I hope that you add time to your estimate to allow firefighters a shorter work period because in a hoarder fire you can never really tell how long it has been burning.
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Hoarding in EMS Podcast


Listen to internet radio with 1 Union 801 TheWebcast on Blog Talk Radio
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Hoarder Fire: Common Myths

The stories keep coming in as Firefighters are facing more and more fires inside Hoarded Conditions.

  It truly is amazing how many we are facing.  It is troubling to hear many firefighters talk about these conditions and immediately go to the fuel load problem.  Since starting my research into this problem of hoarding I have found many other challenges we need to take on.


All Hoarder homes are packed floor to ceiling  

First off, they have a scale to rate the severity of Hoarding conditions.  A level 1 is the start of the problem and a level 5 being the inhabitable end.  As emergency responders with need to identify these levels to adjust our tactics.  This can be difficult if you arrive to find a small fire that is producing a large amount of thick, black smoke.  Smoke conditions will hamper the identification of hoarding inside windows that may already be blocked as the belongings pile up.



All hoarder fires are big fires

Many times Hoarding can offer up small fires that have huge potential.  Sure, the fuel load is increased but the air flow can also be decreased as the compression of the belongings does not allow for “normal” horizontal or vertical ventilation.  This can lead to small, smoldering, decay stage fires that are waiting on one thing, you.  If you respond to a fire to find black stained windows, a large amount of belongings in the back yard, and one or more blocked doors you will need to take steps to reduce the chance of flashover or backdraft.

“We just won’t go in them”

With this potential of smaller fires the adage of “we won’t go in them” gets thrown out the window.  Can we really let a small trashcan fire escalate into a three alarm fire, um no.  If the fire is in the incipient stage, we will all be the first ones to the door to attack.  It is up to us to find ways of adjusting tactics to provide a safer attack.  It is our job to manage fires in any conditions. Managing fires in hoarder homes can be done safely if you take the time to identify, adjust, and attack
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Expect Hoarding

Another day of Honey-Do checklist getting crossed off I get a tweet from the “Average Jake ‏@AverageJakeFF Now that I'm aware of it they keep popping up in rapid numbers #hoarding #fire #ems #dangerous @Jumpseatviews.  I immediately take to the texting airways to inquire about his experience.  He explains that it was a common occurrence with hoarding conditions.  Medical assist with no cues or clues from the exterior, sound familiar?Hoarder Fires

Hoarding is a disorder that causes the afflicted to be very reclusive.  This behavior is attributed to many factors such as embarrassment, shame, and/or guilt as they understand that they have a compulsion to collect things, many that have no apparent value.  This reclusive nature can make a person not allow anyone, including family members, to enter their house.  Behavior like this can continue until outside help is needed, often the fire department.

Hoarding has many dangers associated with it that include biohazards, fall hazards, insect or rodent infestations, and general poorly maintained structural conditions.  This problem can go unnoticed or untouched for years until the occupant has an emergency then it is our problem to deal with.

Let us review some key points of Hoarding Response:

  • If you see something, say something

  • Size up of the structure as you approach

  • Carry respiratory protection, even on medical runs

  • Don’t be afraid to “back the truck up” and get help


Just like Jakes experience, we often find ourselves deep into a structure before we identify these conditions.  This can be dangerous to our health and safety.  Carrying an n95 respirator may be required as we face these conditions more often.   High ammonia levels mixed with mold are just two of the dangers that we face inside a hoarding condition.  They both carry serious health effects with them.  It is time for us to “back the truck up” and protect ourselves from the dangers of Hoarding.

This starts with identifying and reporting hazardous houses to our fellow members.  Without giving out private information, anything that violates HIPPA, we should identify these homes and have them flagged as dangerous.  Allowing every member to report, these conditions will help spread the word and give us time to prepare for the hazards we will face!  If you respond to a hoarding condition, allow yourself some extra time to add the proper level of PPE.  Their hoarding took years to accumulate, allow you enough time to make sure we all go home!
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St. Petersburg Hoarder Fire Kills 9 Dogs





  • By: Kay Long





ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Nine dogs lost their lives in a house fire early Sunday morning at 5998 12th Street North. St. Petersburg Fire Lieutenant Joel Granata says the owner of the home was out and came home to find her home in flames.

Granata says there were ten dogs inside the house, and only one made it out of the one story masonry house alive. He also tells ABC Action News the female owner was a hoarder, and that made the fire difficult to put out.

No cause for the fire has been determined yet.

The Red Cross is helping the homeowner find another place to stay.



Read more: http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/region_south_pinellas/st_petersburg/pets-die-in-st-petersburg-fire#ixzz2G6KAk6EO
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Hoarding Fire in Indianapolis


Hoarding conditions found at house fire

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Hoarder House Fire.



This is a great video of a "Classic" hoarder condtions.  Pay close attention to the overhaul phase of the firefight.  Overhauling a Hoarder home is labor intensive and will tax your crews to their limits!!!
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Housefire kills hoarder



 


dated: Monday, 02 Jul 2012, 4:42 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 02 Jul 2012, 4:42 PM EDT

  • Gilma Avalos





DAVIE, Fla. (WTVJ) - A deadly fire erupted in a home in Davie, Florida Saturday morning killing an elderly woman that officials believe may have been a hoarder.

The Davie Police Department said firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze but found the woman dead inside, lying near the door.

"It appears she was overcome by the smoke and was unable to make it through to the door and exit the residence safely," Police Captain Dale Engle said.

Fire officials spent the morning clearing the home of debris and a slew of newspapers that littered the home.

Engle said it appears the woman was a hoarder.

He said the woman used a walker to move around but the walker was not by the door where she was found.

The victim has not yet been identified.

Authorities responded to the home after reports of smoke emanating from a house shortly before 7 a.m., police said.

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

The incident remains under investigation.





Housefire kills hoarder

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Mobile Home Fire Showed Danger of Hoarder Lifestyle

http://www.wbay.com

By Jennifer Wilson

Manitowoc -

An explosion and fire destroyed a mobile home in Manitowoc late Thursday night.

At about 10 p.m., crews responded to Lakeland Manor Mobile Home Park on Waldo Boulevard for the report of an explosion in the rear of the home.

Authorities say the owner of the mobile home was able to get out safely. No one was hurt.

It took firefighters about an hour to put out the flames. They said fighting the fire was difficult because the owner had a lot of items in the home, some stacked up to the windows. Blocking doorways, items had to be removed from the home to create a path.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

Firefighters say the sheer amount of "stuff" in the home made fighting the fire more difficult and more dangerous. And it's a problem fire departments are seeing more often.

"We had a fire here in Oshkosh three or four weeks ago in a house that was exceptionally full of debris and accumulation of trash," Mark Boettcher, a battalion chief with the Oshkosh Fire Department, said.

It's what firefighters call "a large fire load," and it causes the fire to grow bigger, faster.

"It's very difficult to fight a fire because it's hard for us to move around," Boettcher said.

While there are no official records of how many fire calls involve excessive clutter, Boettcher says it seems to be happening more.

"I think we see it more often than we have in the past," he said. "At least, it's more evident here lately."

"Throughout the 12 years I have seen a variety of issues regarding home conditions," Natalie Vandeveld, who works for the Outagamie County Health Department, said.

Including hoarding.

Besides the extreme fire danger, disease is another danger. Vandeveld tries to reach out and help residents.

"Definitely gaining access to the home has been a challenge," she said.

She says hoarding is triggered by other issues. It's a sensitive topic but a dangerous problem that friends and family shouldn't be afraid to address.

Link to Video
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Hoarding Blog from Houston

The hot new sydrome these days is hoarding -- people can't get enough reality TV shows about poor idiots who can't throw anything away, even if those people watching have to shove aside three boxes of 11-year-old Fuddrucker's receipts just to see the screen.

But things have gotten real, hoarding-wise, in the Houston burbs.

There was the fire at 34th and Antoine Friday night. Not a big blaze, but it did present its unique challenges, according to KPRC: "Fire crews said the home was stacked high with clutter, making it difficult to get inside and fight the fire," the station reports. (We're sure the "clutter" was absolutely important stuff that couldn't be tossed out under any circumstances.)

And then there's the home on Slash Pines Road in The Woodlands.



Authorities have blocked access to the house after one of the dozens of people working on it may have contracted hantavirus, a nasty rodent-related piece of business everyone would just as soon avoid.

The worker developed a respiratory illness, and tests will be done to see if it was caused by a hantavirus, the Houston Chronicle reported.

(Also involved: Friends of the Houston Public Library, which received a big book donation from the home before the hantavirus thing emerged.)

The Woodlands home is being featured in TLC's titled lovingly and subtly titled seriesHoarding: Buried Alive.

The show's website, by the way, features a "Hoarding Photo Game"a "Hoarder Or Just Messy?" quiz and a casting call in case you want to show the world your hoarding ways. ("For those willing to participate, we will offer assistance with finding licensed therapists as well as professional organizers who can offer support," the site says.)

We're sure the neighbors of the Slash Pines home are fully into the spirit of the hoarding show, and are not concerned at all about rats and mice running around spreading sickness.

The home remains quarantined.

Follow Houston Press on Facebook and on Twitter @HairBallsNews or @HoustonPress.
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Near Miss in Cluttered House

Near Miss 4/2010


Report Number: 10-0000726
Report Date: 04/26/2010


Event Description

We were responding to a mutual aid fire with a neighboring volunteer department. Our first two engines were the first on scene. Upon arrival we found a fully involved attached garage. The first engine company captain made the decision to knock down the fire with a 2 ½” pre-connected attack line. I (the second engine company) made the decision to gain entry into the home and started pulling ceiling to prevent extension. We had a hard time gaining access due to heavy smoke and clutter inside the home which prevented us from going as deep as we would have liked. The ceiling came down on top of us just as we had made it to the area where we were going to start pulling ceiling. This resulted in one member of the crew suffering a line of duty injury.

Lesson Learned

Command should have set up a safety officer who could have seen the roof deteriorating. Maintain knowledge of the time spent inside a building not accomplishing a task. There was lack of communication to command about the status of our crew. (Captain, 2010)
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New Castle basement hoarding challenges firefighters

New Castle basement hoarding challenges firefighters | Local News - WTAE Home.

Nobody was hurt, but firefighters had a big challenge on their hands early Monday morning in New Castle.

They broke a basement window to get inside a house on North Crawford Avenue.

Once they did that, they found a basement that was filled with items from the floor to the ceiling, calling it one of the worst cases of hoarding they've encountered.

But according to neighbor Eric Ritter, nobody has lived at the home for several years.

Ritter said he was not home when the fire began. As he returned, he saw smoke coming from the basement and called for help.

"I hurried up and ran inside and woke everybody up and told them to get out of the house, and instantly called 911 and brought the dogs outside and everybody outside, and glad we just got out OK," Ritter said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Read more: http://www.wtae.com/news/local/New-Castle-basement-hoarding-challenges-firefighters/-/9681086/16277184/-/lwidcrz/-/index.html#ixzz24lWFAreu
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Hoarder Fires:Collapse Risks

Good morning from the chamber of hoarders.

[caption id="attachment_40" align="alignright" width="300"]Hoarder Fire Hoarder fire. Picture Courtesy of sdfirephotos.com


When we last were inside the chamber we discussed the choice to crawl over the piles of belongings that you can encounter while inside a hoarded home. This is a complex issue with multiple variables.  We first looked at the victim profile, now it’s time to add another variable to this discussion.  Collapse risk needs looked at every time you enter a hoarded environment.  Let’s head back into the chamber to look at the next variable to Knock it over or crawl over the stacks!

Collapse Risk:


When dealing with assessing a hoarded environment many professionals choose the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) 1-5 scale to rate conditions. This scale applies to the emergency services community in dealing with the amount of belongings that you meet.  In this scale a one will be a slightly cluttered home and a five representing a uninhabitable home.  When faced with the decision to knock over a pile or crawl over the NSGCD scale will be a useful tool. If you discover a level 2 hoarded condition you will be able to crawl over the piles paying close attention to if there is burning materials.  This can be a dangerous task if the pile you are crawling over has been on fire.There have been cases of firefighters pant leg being pulled above their boot and causing burn injuries to the lower leg.  Often we learn to use our hose stream to clear the path of debris in front of us as we crawl into a fire and this would be a great method to help reduce these types of injuries.

 

If you decide the hoard is at a Level 4 or above you will need to consider pulling the piles over before advancing beyond them.  At these levels the piles are at shoulder level or higher and  the decision of  pulling them over needs made.  Piles of belongings at this level will make for the most dangerous hoarder fire. This task will need more personnel and longer time frames to carry out the task requiring more time to advance on the fire. Longer time to maneuver through the pathways while pulling them over can test even the fittest firefighters.  When faced with a level 4 or above the best decision might be NOT GO IN!

Making the decision to enter a hoarded environment is complex and making this decision even harder is the choice to pull over piles of debris.  Incident commanders need to consider the risk of the belongings falling and then trapping firefighters.  This consideration will help you make the call to not go in at all……
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Next time in a Hoarder House....



Check out this video from a clean out company as they clean out a house that had Hoarding conditions.  Next time you respond to a medical or non-fire related call just think of what is beneath all of those belongings?  Notice the dust masks too.....

 

thanks for the stop inside the chamber of hoarders.......
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Hoarding Fires: Knock it over?

Hoarding Fire?


[caption id="attachment_27" align="alignright" width="300"]Hoarder Fire sdfirephotos.com


To knock over or to crawl over is a question that keeps coming up in my research into fighting fires in Hoarder Homes. Over the past year hoarding conditions has had everyone’s attention due to a very successful television show bringing new questions around. The question that seems to keep coming up is “do I knock over the piles of belongings or crawl over them?  This is a complex question that needs  looked at from a couple different angles.  Every hoarder fire will be bringing a different set of challenges that has questions needing answered before you can make this decision.  Let’s take a look at what an aggressive interior firefighter must consider before you determine  to crawl over the piles of clutter.

 

Factor number 1: Victim Profile


We all are aware of saving victims being our number one priority.  This is a common statement that needs  addressed when considering knocking over piles of debris.  You should consider occupancy type, time of day, and cars in the driveway to decide chances of trapped occupants.  All three of these factors remain constant from a “normal” fire with one more consideration to add.  Hoarders are often reclusive in nature and occasionally don’t leave their home for extended amounts of time.  With this in mind you should consider that just because there isn’t a vehicle in the driveway or it’s the middle of the day a trapped occupant is possibly inside.  Let’s say it’s the middle of the day and no cars are in the driveway. Additional information needs  collected about the occupant once you have identified hoarder conditions. Most of the time there will be people who live around the hoarded home to offer information on occupancy. Interviewing bystanders will help you asses if people are inside or not. Often they will be able to tell you about the habits of the occupant and if they are “usually” there during that time of the day.

 

Here is the quandary about  knocking the piles over.  You run the risk of covering a victim up with the belongings.  A hoarder can have piles of belongings to the waist level making it near impossible to enter, especially into a zero visibility environment.  If there is any chance of a victim being inside you do everything possible keep the piles in place to avoid covering them up increasing the opportunity to  find  them.  Just like in any situation a Thermal imaging camera will be a high priority tool that aids in the search between the piles.

Stay tuned to the Chamberofhoarders.com for the rest of this complex decision-making problem…..
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