The 380-Degree Size-up for Hoarder Homes

Ryan Pennington proposes an additional measure for size-up at homes that are filled with extraordinary amounts of personal belongings.


“Attack team one to command, Heavy Contents.” What does this phrase mean to you? It means that the structure they are in is full of belongings or a “Hoarder Home.”

With this growing problem becoming popular in reality TV, the fire service must use the bright lights of Hollywood to keep training on fighting these types of fires. As the near misses and news stories keep rolling in, we all should discuss what it would be like to fight hoarder home fires. Let’s take a moment to discuss initial size-up and tactics. A 380 degree size-up (adding 20 degrees to the normal 360) will give you 20 more years in the fire service.

Most of today’s officers have been taught to perform a 360-degree walk around the building to size-up the situation. As a common practice, doors, windows, smoke and fire conditions all are being accounted for. Now, let’s add another 20 degrees of size up by looking at the owner’s vehicle. Why would we take the time to look in someone’s vehicle? Well, maybe we shouldn’t look at it on every fire, but when we start to suspect that a hoarder condition is involved, the extra few seconds to look into someone’s vehicle could give you a world of information.

Let’s use the example of a first-arriving officer walking around a single-family home. He notices that the windows are blocked; that’s clue number 1. What if the officer has to step over large amounts of belongings in the yard; that’s clue number 2. Time to take a peek at their car! As you approach the vehicle, you notice that it is loaded down with a large amount of belongings. Bam, that is clue number 3. You should be ready to face-off head to head with a fire in a Hoarded Home.

An announcement should be made over the radio, “Units responding to xyz street...we have a Heavy Content fire.” This should be a cue and a clue to everyone that this house is under stress before the first droplet of water is applied. Many homes that are loaded with belongings have structural issues due to the lack of maintenance. As a decision maker in the most important five minutes of a response, the use of your senses and an extra 20 degrees will help. An adjustment on tactics will need to be made when faced with a hoarded home.

Now that we have established that we may be dealing with a hoarded home, let’s attack this monster. To the front door we go. Wait, hold up, and stop a minute. Is the front door the best way to attack? Well, here we go again, it may not be. Some people that accumulate a large amount of belongings will have their house narrowed down to small usable spaces and the front rooms may not be one. Many times the belongings will have taken over the living or family rooms. Some people may have brought so much material into their home that the bedrooms are all that’s left that can be accessed.

When we are making our 380-degree size-up, we should find the best point of entry. I agree that most of us will make this decision as would you, but it will become harder when the loads of belongings begin to reach shoulder or even head height. So how do we handle this. I vote to hit it from the outside and use the lack of airflow to help use a steam approach to fighting this fire. Now you’re probably thinking, “Did he say use a fog nozzle, mess up the thermal balance, not ventilate and use an outside fire flow directed in to combat this problem?” Yes I did.

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