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.

I understand the discussion of late of using this tactic from both sides. I would never second-guess anyone’s choice in NOT using this tactic as to the consequences of pushing fire to the unburned portions of the house. I understand and agree, UNLESS it is a hoarded home. These fires, where you can’t get near the seat of the fire, can be a huge challenge with a needed change in tactics. The sheer amount of stuff will not allow you to gain access to the seat. So instead of placing our people into a larger riskier environment, lets darken it down from the outside, wait for the smoke to change colors, vent and then go in to finish it off. This will allow time for added personnel to arrive, make a ventilation strategy, choose the best way to dig in to the structure and allow for a larger RIT team to be available. ??Hoarded homes are not conventional house fires. They are tactically challenging, non-typical fires that require you to think and attack in different ways. I totally agree that we need to make entry into normally furnished buildings with a reserve amount of aggression and put the seat out. But we need to also remember that in these conditions of reduced pathways, that may not be possible. We should not put our people into spots where flashover will happen sooner, entanglement hazards are everywhere and an attic space full of stuff is just waiting to fall on their heads. Let’s use an outstanding firefighter to stand outside and darken it down first. If we spread fire, it was most likely headed that way anyway because the fire spreads faster in hoarded homes.

In closing, I would like a moment to review what’s in this article. Hoarded homes that catch on fire are NOT bread-and butter-fires. They are complicated monsters with increased flashover risks, huge amounts of fuel loads and a building collapse waiting to happen at any moment. We need to take the time to size them up and call them out. “IC, this is Attack Team 1...we are experiencing Heavy Contents.” When these words go out, your brain should be going into a new mode. A mode that changes from the common way of attacking a fire to using some approaches that will not put our people into an extremely more dangerous fire that will kill us faster. Remember that when you suspect a hoarder home on fire you should “add 20 degress” more to your size up to keep your people safe.

RYAN PENNINGTON, a Contributing Editor, is a firefighter/paramedic for the Charleston, WV, Fire Department. He is currently assigned to Station 8 and a member of the West Virginia Task Force 1 USAR team. He has over 17 years of combined fire, rescue and EMS experience. Ryan is currently a West Virginia State Instructor 2, Hazmat Technician, and Certified Fire Officer 2. Ryan has been guest on several podcasts including: Training & Tactics Talk: Searching in the Modern Environment and Engine Company Operations in Today's Buildings. View all of Ryan's articles and podcasts here. You can reach Ryan by e-mail at: