3 Tips on Hoarding Discovery

Hoarding has been around since the days of the collier brothers in Manhattan, since they made hoarding famous emergency responders have dealt with the disorder.

Hoarder Belongings During Overhaul Keven Smith Photo Credits

Compulsive hoarding is known by the physiological world to be attached with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as of 2013 this stands to change into its own disorder. This change should offer new insight to how and why people put attachment to items that seem to have little or no value. This attachment to “stuff” is why they hoard. How we, emergency responders, deal with the outcome of their disorder can be challenging to put it mildly.

Often I am asked for a “street level” advice for fighting fires in a “heavy content” environment. Hoarding can offer many challenges to the firefighter trying to perform a search, fire attack, or ventilation as they navigate through the labyrinth of belongings. It can become a labor-intensive task that requires many tactical changes. Let us look at 3 tips from the Jumpseat perspective on how we discover heavy contents are present. Heavy contents fire can be a manageable, sometimes; it is just up to you to decide when and where you can manage it.

First Priority of a street level firefighter is to make the discovery of Heavy Contents. Many homes with these conditions can be spotted miles away but there are many that go undiscovered until you make it through the front door. A 380-degree size up needs performed and communicated to everyone on the scene. If the discover still is not made until you make the push we need to be aware of our surroundings. Using a sweeping motion with your nozzle can give you an accurate response as the water stream makes contact with the piles of belongings.

Many times, we are taught to sweep the floor to remove hot embers or other dangerous items. This technique can be used to determine and treat mild hoarding conditions. Sweeping the floor from side to side, as you make your advance can offer insight to reveal hoarding conditions. If your stream is redirected or a significant change in sound is heard, there may be heavy content present.

Another common means of discovering heavy contents in the inability to force an entrance. If you are faced with a door that, once forced, will not swing open, you need to suspect Heavy Contents. I have interviewed many firefighters and spoken with forcible entry instructors from around the world and all agree that a complete door removal is in order when faced with a door blocked with content. If you fail to remove the door from the frame, you may not get the full effect of just how bad the hoard is. Remember hoarding comes in different severity levels and a level 1 requires different tactics than a level 5. If you are encountering a door that cannot be forced a radio transmission is needed to make incident commanders aware of your struggles and aid in their resource deployment. Hoarding offers cues and clues to how severe, if you do not share the information how can they adjust.

One of the most dangerous operations on the fire scene is that of a search. Primary searches should be rapid in nature, but what if heavy content are present. If you choose, a VEIS method or an oriented search the discovery of heavy contents will not take long. One common method of speeding up this process is to take you hook, yes I said hook, and sweep around the window or door before entry. Most four or 6-foot hooks can give you enough reach to hit the piles of belongings. Depending on the level of severity, you may be able to sweep over the piles that is why a floor level sweep is the best place to start. If you are unable to complete the sweep, a higher approach will allow you to make the determination if Heavy Content is present. If you do suspect heavy content, you will need to be extra cautious making entry and may choose to wait on a TIC or extra manpower. Remember whose safety comes first.

Today we looked at three common ways that a firefighter discovers the presence of Heavy Content. Always be reminded of this article when approaching a structure fire no matter what the conditions of the interior are. Fighting fires in Heavy Content environments does not require a “new” way of fighting fires; it just requires us to utilize many of our tried and true methods to make a safer environment for us all. Use the three tips from the jumpseat to keep your street level firefighter safer on your next fire!

Thanks for the stop in the jumpseat!

Identify, adjust, and then ATTACK……Heavy Content Fires……