The Facts About Collyer's Mansion Conditions

This article explores three solid facts culled from actual incidents involving Collyer's Mansion conditions in the United States.The previous article looked at how the term Collyer's Mansion has evolved, how the conditions have become common throughout...


This article explores three solid facts culled from actual incidents involving Collyer's Mansion conditions in the United States.

The previous article looked at how the term Collyer's Mansion has evolved, how the conditions have become common throughout the country, and how to provide a brief amount of pre-planning to operate safer. This article will look at three proven facts from fires involving Collyer's Mansion conditions.

Fact Number 1
"The interior attack will not be as fast as you like"

Forcible entry into dwellings under Collyer's Mansion conditions is complicated due to the occupant's compulsive disorder (hoarding) as well as fear. Those experiencing fear most likely suffer from other social anxieties as well as isolation. This was most likely the case of Langley Collyer. An early onset of dementia possibly coupled with a change in the neighborhood environment (vandalism, attempted theft) no doubt led him to putting his degree in mechanical engineering to work constructing booby traps.

The difference between the Collyer's Mansion and that of a drug house is the occupants of a Collyer's Mansion usually don't want you in and they don't want to go out themselves. If the first-due engine company, operating without a truck, is responsible for forcing entry, Collyer's Mansion conditions may require that more than one firefighter begin opening up the dwelling. This takes members away from the initial stretch. The incident commander should request additional companies as he begins to backfill to complete the initial tasks.

This may mean that the second-due company will handle the initial stretch or that the second-due truck assists the first-due with entry. Subsequent arriving companies should also expect to be operating in almost unorthodox manners, such as through windows, over porch roofs, from inside garages, in order to gain entry into the building. The key to remember is that the fire is still growing, extending into other areas of the dwelling. We should anticipate that the conditions we find once we gain access are not at all what they were we when first arrived and plan accordingly.

Examples:

  • Yonkers, NY 2008: 2 1/2-story private dwelling
    Elderly coupled barred their windows with metal rods and nailed the front door shut. They used the garage as a point of regular access.
  • Chillum-Adelphi, MD 2007: 1 1/2-story private dwelling
    Finding Collyer's Mansion conditions in the rear, crews initially attacked the fire with three lines at once and despite best efforts, fire was doubtful for the first few minutes.
  • Manhattan, NY 1999: Seven-story multiple dwelling
    Firefighters found their way blocked with piles of paper, furniture, etc. Crews had to remove materials before advancing inside.

Fact Number 2
"No matter the size of the structure, you will most likely run out of air"

We must realize that our rate of respiration as well as our actual time working will increase due to the obstacles being negotiated. Getting to the seat of the fire is only half the battle. Once there, we are left with little air, as compared to simply stretching up to a bedroom in a well-kept Cape Cod.

Also, no one has come behind us in a large effort to remove the obstacles. The same difficulty faced trying to find the fire, we will face again in trying to get out once our low air device activates. Members operating inside, and incident commanders, need to be much more aware of their "on air time" when facing Collyer's Mansion conditions. This would most likely require having additional companies standing by, as well as more than one company assigned to rapid intervention duties, if possible.

On June 1997 a fire in Queens, NY, Engine 331 and Ladder 173 were first arriving at a fire in a the basement of a one-story private dwelling. Captain Vincent Fowler led his interior team into the basement to locate the fire and immediately encountered Collyer's Mansion conditions. Both companies had difficulty with waist-high material and constantly having to free themselves of entanglements. Heat was still building despite Engine 331 only being able to hit the rollover.

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