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Providing a rapid intervention team (RIT) at the scene of a fire in a building involving this type of condition is crucial. If your SOP is to dispatch one engine or ladder company to a fire, it may be wise to up the ante on this type of incident. Having two or more RITs available may prove beneficial if the need arises to activate the team. Either by the RIT or an operating company, the generous positioning of ground ladders is helpful at a hoarder-type fire. This can prove helpful during normal operations and critical during a RIT operation.
A thorough size-up by the RIT to include both actual and radio reconnaissance of the building is important – ascertain which entry points are usable and determine whether the hoarding condition involves the entire structure or clear areas exist. Also determine whether the removal of a downed firefighter through the interior would be possible or if it would be better to perform the removal from an exterior opening.
The added collapse potential in a situation such as this needs to be anticipated. Following the fire on Downing Street, seven 40-yard dumpsters were needed to remove the material that had been kept in the home. A 2½-story frame single-family dwelling is not designed to carry that weight. It especially was not designed for that weight after our hoselines compound that by soaking the tons of material with water.
When dealing with incidents with these conditions, remember that what we see initially may not reveal the problems that we can encounter. Very early on, identify and notify all units of the presence of hoarder conditions. As an incident commander, company officer or firefighter, be keenly aware of the situation and alter your strategy and tactics accordingly.