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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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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Complications of Searching inside Hoarder Conditions

Station and units respond to XYZ Street for the structure fire with confirmed people trapped.  This could possibly be the most intense statement ever heard over your dispatch channel.  Immediately everyone goes into a rescue mode and everyone’s focus goes to locating the victim as saving lives,  our number one priority.

Searching and locating victims inside a house fire can be challenging process that will physically drain your firefighters in minutes.  Most firefighter chooses a type of search pattern to start with and can adjust when the search has encountered difficulty.  Hoarding conditions is a difficulty that will need adjusted for when a search is to be performed.  Compulsive hoarding disorder will cause a person to overload their homes with things that have no apparent value to you and I, what rooms do they start their collections in?

[caption id="attachment_324" align="alignright" width="120"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013


While not an absolute truth, many people that suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder begin their collections in attic spaces and basements.  Once full of belongings their collection will spill into the living spaces such as living rooms and bedrooms.  This compulsive collecting makes the living spaces that are usable become limit. How should you adjust you searching once the heavy content discovery has been made?  Let’s review some complications faced when searching for trapped victims.

 



Collapsed belongings

A recent news story of a compulsive hoarder that was reported missing for days just to be discovered days later drives home the need for an intense focus when searching.  Collapsing belongings can cover up victims and trap searching firefighters.   Compulsive hoarding disorder can attribute to a number of belongings being collected, from piles of newspapers to car parts a firefighter needs to anticipate finding various types of collections behind the doors of a hoarded home.   A few common types of belongings often collected are newspapers, DVD cases, and magazines will be stacked from floor a possible ceiling level.  Each of these stacks individually will not offer many challenges but put them all in the same small space and the chance for debris falling as a occupant tries to self extricated from the house can cover them, easily.

 

Where to start searching

Many hoarder conditions  have rooms filled to capacity and often the last to rooms to be filled are the bathroom and kitchen.  While this may seem like a useless finding, it may offer you a starting point of your search not usually thought of.  If a fire were to happen at 0200 in a residential neighborhood most firefighters would begin in the bedroom area.  In hoarded environments the bedroom may not be used for sleeping.  When sizing up a heavy content environment determining the locations and the levels of hoarding is important.  If the smoke conditions allow this the bedrooms should be assessed transmit findings to all firefighters on scene.

If the bedrooms assessment tends to show an unusable space your search will need to begin in the spaces that are usable   Starting a search in the kitchen or bathrooms may be where you will find an occupant.  This is especially true if the occupant is alerted to the fire and tries to escape.  It has been documented that firefighters have made successful rescues from these two areas. Hoarder Fire Training

One problem with starting your search inside a kitchen or bathroom is the access to them.  Often these rooms can have limited access from the outside.  This means that you will have to battle your way through a area that could potentially be hoarded beyond use.  Using tactics from the exterior will offer the firefighters a barrier of safety but if you choose to go through the “goat paths” you will need to make an extra effort to stay oriented, increase crew size, and be prepared to deal with the collapsing piles of debris.

 

Final thoughts

If you are alerted to people trapped in a Hoarder Fire you should take notice that they may be covered by their own belongings.  Adjusting your search patterns, moving the piles, and sweeping under stacks of belongings are all successful tactics to use when searching in the hoarded environment.  All of these tasks should be conducted under the direction of an interior officer and assisted with the use of a Thermal Imagine Camera.  Sweeping the area with a TIC can help you see any abnormal stacks of stuff that could be hiding a victim.

In your next search drill add some different variables to it like stacks of belongings and obstacles to search under in case you are tasked with searching in a hoarded environment to make sure we all go home.

 

Here are some links to the New Jersey Case  http://www.northjersey.com/news/Sad_story_of_New_Milford_womans_death_puts_spotlight_on_disorder_of_hoarding.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/partly-mummified-woman-found-n-apt-article-1.1317931
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Firefighters: Can we really go inside?

One of the more common themes told by firefighters when asked about fires inside hoarded environments is “we won’t go in” or “can we go inside”.  The answer to this question is complicated and cannot be answered with a yes or a no.  Many different variables come into play when making the decision to enter a burning building that is filled with belongings.  From the size of the fire to the potential of victims being trapped, there is a large amount of decisions needing made in a small amount of time.  Let’s look at some examples of the decision making process to determine if we can really go inside a hoarded environment.

[caption id="attachment_324" align="alignright" width="120"]Hoarder Fire 4/2013 Hoarder Fire 4/2013


Pre-Planned Structures

One of the biggest keys to a successful fireground is being prepared before the bell rings.  Being aware and informed that a building has a large amount of belongings before it catches fire will allow you start the size up days in advance. If you find a building that is beyond capacity a “no entry” tag can be assigned and firefighters will not be allowed in.  Making the decision can be taxing on our personnel if a report of persons trapped is transmitted.  For the other levels of Heavy Content a number value can be assigned to allow an estimate of conditions.  The Institute for Challenging Disorganization uses a rating scale from one to five.  A level one would be clutter just outside the limits of “normal” while a level five would be packed from floor to ceiling. (http://www.challengingdisorganization.org/)



If you have these buildings pre-planned to their levels an incident commander can take this into consideration before committing firefighters to the interior.  Making this assessment can be made during or after an ems run, during a fire alarm instillation, or a drive by the location.  Gaining access to private homes will prove to be the biggest challenge.  Multi-Family dwellings make it easier with the allowing of once a year inspections and property owners access.  Adding hoarding homes to your pre fire process will offer a level of awareness and share it to everyone on the fireground.

 

Points of Entry

The next point of emphasis in making the determination to send firefighters inside is the blocked doors and windows.  Having a secondary means of egress should be a point of importance when sending firefighters inside.  If things were to go bad, can they get out?  If they cannot you should make it so they can.  Opening the structure up can intensify the fire but will also offer a level of increased safety if an escape is needed.  Beginning the Pre-Overhaul Process is a great way of making an escape route.  Removing windows, blocked doors, and sill removals should be used on all exterior windows. (caution, venting behind hose crews should not be allowed as the fire can be drawn back onto them!)

Compulsive hoarding disorder can absolutely take over a house.  From cluttered  living rooms to blocked doors often in these conditions  primary entrances and exits are blocked.  This means that taking a 1 ¾-inch handline and stretching it to the front door will not allow access to the house.  Being creative and attentive to the size up clues and ques will allow a hose team to make the correct choice of points of entry.

 

Conclusion

Can we go inside a Heavy Content fire and put it out?  Without talking in circles too much I will leave that up to you.  Use the points in this blog for some reference in reviewing with your crew.  Firefigthers have been crawling into these conditions for many years, many with successful outcomes.  If we use our heads and use the size ups, prepare secondary means of exit, and closely monitor conditions from the exterior and interior it will allow the incident commander to make the call.  Just remember that many rescues are made within six feet of an exit.  Stay safe and remember to be Heavy Content ready!
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Two Killed in North Tonawanda House Fire



News story from a "Colliers Mansion" type conditions in northern New York State.  Prayers to the families and the first reponders.  Here is a Link for more on this tragic fire.

 
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Hoarder Fires Prevention

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

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



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

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

Tips for Hoarder Fire Safety:

  • Be understanding of the disorder

  • Use EMS runs to gain access to private residences

  • Contact family members

  • Start a public information campaign

  • Allow neighbors to report conditions

  • Add clutter dangers to school programs


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

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

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


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


View more videos at: http://nbcphiladelphia.com.


he SPCA rescues nearly two dozen cats out of a Philadelphia home, after it catches fire this evening.


NBC10's Chris Cato talked to a neighbor who lives on the 800 block of Medway Road in Bustleton, and was the first to spot the flames.


"I ran back there and looked out and there was flames coming out of the kitchen," said Denise Mueller.


After firefighters put out the flames, they noticed all the cats inside the home and alerted the SPCA.


Two cats died in the fire. SPCA workers rescued 21 cats in total.


Police call this a "hoarding situation" and they say it's not just because of the number of cats, but because of the condition inside the home.


 

Read More Here 

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WV Cluttered Fire-Fatal



HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – After an elderly man died in a house fire in Huntington during the weekend, firefighters are warning about a hazard many of us have in our own homes: clutter.

Huntington firefighters had to break second-floor windows to get inside the Madison Avenue home Saturday morning to save 87-year-old Joseph Martin. Upstairs rooms filled with storage and clutter made that more difficult.

Read More Here
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Hoarder Fire PG County

 

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

 

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

 

 

 

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

Good afternoon from the Chamber of Hoarders.  We would like to announce the launch of a case study on fires with Hoarding Conditions present.  You will find an attached document with a  questionnaire regarding any fires that you may have ran with hoarding conditions.

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


Please join in and download this short review of Heavy Content Fires as we try to understand how tactics can change to prevent a Line of Duty Death.  Hoarder Fires are NOT bread and butter fires and they need us to change the way we size up, attack, and search inside these complex situations.

If you are willing to share your story with us please download, fill out, and send the attached form to Ryan33@suddenlink.net.  As each case study comes in we will be assembling and publishing some lesson learned, successes, and challenges faced inside these conditions.

 

Please share this form with everyone thank you for participating!

Hoarder Fire Case Study
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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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Hoarder Fires new Class Flyer

Hoarder Fires Hoarder Fires


 
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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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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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