Hoarder Homes: Piles of Hazards for Firefighters

The definition of hoarding is accumulating a large number of possessions that have no apparent value. With today’s popular reality show that is spreading the message on this subject, we all are more aware of this type of situation. Hoarders are becoming...

The second consideration should be the point of entry. Within hoarder homes walkways are limited. This can prove to be a labor-intensive task while managing even the smallest diameter attack line. The advancing attack team may have to knock over some of the smaller piles of belongings to even make their advancement to the seat of the fire.

As a hoseline is advanced through these “pathways,” it may begin to knock over debris. People have been killed by the collapse of these belongings when dry; imagine how heavy they will be when wet. It is imperative that the backup person try their best to keep this from happening. In a perfect world, an interior attack team would go to a three-man crew with the third person being responsible for removing or moving of debris if it falls on the hose. A debris collapse will make the hose line heavier and harder to move. All members fighting these fires need to keep in mind the dynamic ever-changing environment. The offensive attack may need to be changed at some point during the hose advancement.

Lessening the Danger

While a first line is being advanced into the structure to attack the seat of the fire, the outside crews can aid in the safety. Vertical ventilation is a key factor in limiting fire spread and making the interior more tenable for attack crews. In hoarder homes, this becomes even more important. Fire spreading along the ceiling of a these types of homes can catch the piles of belongings faster due to their height.

This horizontal spread, coupled with the increased fuel load, can make a flashover occur sooner and at a lower temperature than normal. Multiple vertical ventilation holes may be used to limit the spread in different directions.

The outside ventilation position becomes more important as well in hoarder homes. With direction and coordination, the outside windows can be removed and some of the piles can be pulled outside the window frame. This will allow for a better means of secondary egress for interior crews. A New York hook or Boston rake may be the tool of choice in this circumstance; they allow a longer reach and a better hold on the items to be pulled out.

As in any of our responses, communication between attack crew, outside ventilation crew, and incident commander is important, but in these conditions it needs to be increased. When fighting fires in hoarder homes, the communication should happen more often due to the increased work and fuel load on the interior crews. “Command to attack team 1…outside vent crew has opened up the window on the C Charlie side and began to remove debris…is this helping your condition?” “Attack crew to command…yes we acknowledge window on side Charlie and it is helping visibility.” This type of communication should be often and direct as possible.

Defensive Considerations

If conditions are to the point that an interior attack is not tenable, it’s best to pull crews out and regroup. Once outside you need to take in to consideration the normal worries of collapse zone, but must also be aware of some other considerations specific to this type of fire. The added weight of a hoarded home increases the collapse risk, so we need to be aware once your attack has become defensive.

Due to the compression and density of the conditions, some other tactics need to be used to increase your defensive attack. Opening windows and cutting them to the floor and breeching exterior walls can increase your reach with master streams and handlines. It will take more volume of water to put these fires out and stream penetration is a key factor that needs to be addressed. A solid bore nozzle is the preferred nozzle due to the stream shape and ability to penetrate the piles of belongings. Using portable monitors, such as the mercury nozzle, will aid in your operation as well. With the ability to apply a large GPM while using minimal amount of manpower allows you to reassign your people to help make access points and use more lines.

Salvaging and Overhaul Concerns

Once the fire has been extinguished, a new level on concern will appear…overhaul. Wow, where do we start?

The amount of labor-intensive work associated with the overhaul can be overwhelming. Once again, the limited pathways will prove to be challenging, so an alternative path to remove these belongings need to be explored.