Outstanding Hoarder Fires

Hoarder Fire

Commonly I will tell someone that I have taken on the topic of emergencies inside Hoarding conditions and the first thing they say is “we just don’t go in”.  Although I often disagree with them this tactic is one that is in the toolbox of fire attacks.  If you arrive to find a yard full of content, blocked means of entrance, and other signs of hoarding present then an outstanding fire attack is a valid one.

This is especially useful if your first alarm assignment does not offer enough manpower to accomplish the initial push on the fire.  Hoarding conditions need many tactical changes with the biggest adjustment being the amount of firefighters that it will take to accomplish the extinguishment.  Narrowed pathways, blocked doors and windows are just a few challenges faced, both being a labor-intensive task that will need extra firefighters to make entry.  While waiting on these additional resources a wise choice would be to use an outside attack.  Hoarding conditions can pack belongings so tightly inside that a well-placed fire stream into a window or door opening can have an increased effect due to the reduced airflow thus acting almost like a foam covering.

It seems like this debate can go on for days about the transitioning of an attack from an outside to interior operations.  Many departments around the world use this tactic on normal structural fires but they can really pay dividends when hoarding is present.  How much are we risking when we are directing a hose stream from in from the outside?  Does this make you less of a firefighter or a smart firefighter?

A street-smart firefighter can use the cues and clues during the 380-degree size up to identify the potential of heavy contents and choose this method.  When establishing an exterior suppression effort it may also be required to be creative in hose stream application.  With normal windows and doors possibly blocked, breaching of an exterior wall or even attacking from above through the ceiling can come into play.  Carefully breaching holes in the siding, block, or coverings can expose structural members allowing hose streams in between them.  We need to always be mindful while using this method  also can be dangerous as structural members may be exposed to flame faster.  When you choose to use this tactic, speed is of great concern.  Choose your entrance point to get it opened up.

Another choice that is less time consuming would be to choose exterior walls, remove the window, use a power saw to remove the framework down to the floor and grab your 6 foot hook and start pulling.  This will begin the opening of the room, offer more area to direct the hose stream and can also be a point of entry for crews if they choose to go interior.

One key point in exterior operations and hose stream placement is to direct the hose stream towards the ceiling.  Hoarding levels can be so dense that a hose stream placed into the middle of the pile will not allow for cooling of enough area to help extinguishment and not reach the entire room.  Even a master stream may not be enough to penetrate past the point of entry.  With this in mind nozzle selection is most important.  Without going into the smooth bore versus fog, I will offer this point.  A solid stream nozzle may not penetrate past 12-13 inches into a pile of belongings and if it did, do you really want to knock the pile over possible covering the seat of the fire?  Using a combination attack with a fog nozzles can cool the area while smothering the fire.  Word of caution that being inside this room when this style of attack is happening may push your PPE beyond its limit.  So do not be in the room when you are about to steam the room.

 

Sometimes being an outstanding firefighter is the best choice.  When facing a house full of belongings that has access issues stay outside, initiate the attack, vent, and finish it off inside if the conditions allow.  Would anyone fault you for not going in a hoarding condition, absolutely not.  If you are faced with floor to ceiling belongs this may just be the best choice.  Hoarding is a physiological disorder that is treatable if identified.  It is not our job to identify it while it is on fire.  We are in the business of helping people but in this case the folks we should help keep safe is US.