Mayday Monday: Hoarding

Mayday Monday: Hoarding

By Tony Carroll

This is the Labor Day edition of Mayday Monday. Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday. Remember the reason for the day off–a “yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” as designated by the U.S. Department of Labor. Thank you to all of the hard-workers out there.

This Mayday Monday was suggested by the DCFEMS PIO. He recently responded to a fire on V Street in SE D.C. Click HERE for the story. The companies on this fire are familiar with these buildings and fires here are relatively easy work. This one was not. When firefighters got to the front door of the fire building, they could not get it fully open. It was blocked by the large accumulation of belongings and debris packed in the house. Fortunately, the lone occupant was able to escape and no firefighters were injured, but the potential was great. Hoarding conditions present a very dangerous environment to fight a fire in.

Some tips for surviving the fire in a hoarding environment:

  • SLOW DOWN. This fire cannot be attacked with the same speed as a normal fire response. It will be difficult to locate the seat of the fire and conditions can change rapidly. So, it is best to commit only the necessary resources.
  • Don’t crowd the initial hoseline. If the conditions change and the crew needs to back out, their exit needs to be clear.
  • Always have a way out. The residence may be so jam-packed full of stuff that the normal exits (windows and doors) may be blocked.
  • Remove any barriers or obstacles. Firefighters on the outside should remove any bars and open doors for inside crews to get out.
  • Be careful of uncoordinated ventilation. Due to the heavy fire load and difficulty to get water to the seat of the fire, any additional air may cause conditions to change rapidly. Outside firefighters must ensure inside crews are ready for venting.

These fires are very dangerous and have resulted in civilian deaths and firefighter injuries. Your assignment for this week is to research the Collyer brothers and their relationship to hoarding and identify what resources are available if/when you have an incident in a hoarding house. Go grab a cup of coffee and head to the computer; you’ve got work to do.

Tony Carroll is a captain with the safety office of the District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department.

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