Never Give Up


CarolinaFireJournal - Ryan Pennington
Ryan Pennington
08/07/2015 -

When faced with the challenge of searching for occupants inside a home that is FILLED to capacity with various levels of belongings one thing remains constant, Risk vs. Reward. Compulsive Hoarding Disorder is a diagnosable mental illness that compels the afflicted to fill their homes until the living spaces are no longer usable for their intended purposes.

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Bedrooms become so full they can no long sleep in them and other rooms follow. What makes dealing with reports of occupants trapped is the inconsistency of victim location. The victims that are afflicted with this disorder collect different types of materials and begin their collection in different parts of their homes. While there is no “set” order for the piles to begin, there are some common findings that I have discovered through case studies.

  1. Commonly the attics and basements fill first.
  2. Bathrooms and kitchens are commonly the last to become full

If you think about these findings it should make sense to you. Where are all your holiday decorations stored? Can you live without the cycle of food consumption and removal? While these are not a 100 percent certainty we need to always assume they are both full.

Also, with these common findings we need to consider the chances of bedrooms that are full and can no longer be used. Such was the case in a tragic fire in Elyria, Ohio. Elyria Fire Department had a single family dwelling with confirmed occupant trapped. The crew valiantly searched the bedrooms, second floor, and progressed to searching the first floor. What they found was the upstairs was used for storage only and the occupant lived, slept, and functioned downstairs only. This challenging fire could have gone bad, quickly. Elyria’s firefighters handled this challenge with control, aggression and relentless efforts. While the outcome was not favorable for the victim, all firefighters came home safe.

Where to Start?

When choosing a place to begin your search for trapped victims in hoarding homes, begin with the common entry point, or points, that the occupant uses. What differs from a normal fire is the common finding that the occupant uses other points of entry other than front or back doors. Many will use garages, windows, or even ladders to maneuver around their collection. A full inspection during the size up is mandatory. You would be looking for pathways up to the side of the house, or usual looking windows or doors to indicate they are using them for primary access. The sure fire way of knowing these routes is an active Preplan process. Using medical, assists, or utility workers is the place to begin this process.

Once the probable location is found a sound Risk vs. Benefit needs to be made. Is the risk too high in this part of the house? Do we have the needed manpower? How will we stay oriented to location in all that mess. These questions should been answered before you progress, if at all.

Creating Flow Paths

Being a proud West Virginian this word always reminds me of Chief Lloyd Layman from my home state. In his early book, “Little Droplets of Water,” Chief Layman talked about “air tract management.” Sound familiar? Both terms are very relevant in hoarding conditions. We have heat, plenty of fuel — now what does the fire need? Hoarding creates smaller spaces for the smoke and flames to collect. It can become pressurized quickly. If we are making our way around the home and find open spaces we should try to control them if at all possible. By limiting oxygen to the fire we can keep it from growing and improving the chances of victim(s) surviving.

Shielding Affects of Hoarding

By far the most interested findings, while conducting hoarder fire research, are the shielding affects of the collection of belongings. If the victim has some of his or her “stuff” fall on them or find them in a pathway, the belongings can actually act like a heat shield. If the victim can survive the toxic smoke by staying low, it means they can stay alive longer. The Citizens Fire Company in my home state of West Virginia illustrated this point recently. They successfully rescued a trapped occupant 30 plus minutes into the fire. She was found covered in debris and in the room of origin. While she will need months of burn treatment, she lived.

If it wasn’t for the never give up attitude of the Citizens Fire Company she would have perished in this fire, without a doubt!

Conclusion

I hope this gives you some insight into why we should never give up on a trapped occupant in hoarding conditions. While we should never put ourselves in extreme risks, we can make rescues by identifying entry points, controlling the flow of air, and using exterior methods to search all while fire attack is in progress. The true fire dynamic changes in hoarding may not yet be known. We started the research process this May in Shelby, North Carolina with the Kill the Flashover research group. For the first time, in the world that I can find, we will be conducting live fire research in hoarding conditions. Stay tuned as we release our findings and share with the world!

Ryan Pennington is a leading authority and expert in Heavy Content Fire Fighting — also known as hoarder fire fighting. Pennington has lectured and trained thousands of firefighters and fire departments from across the United States and internationally. He is the founder of ChamberofHoarders.com which is the leading Heavy Content Firefighting Online Training Academy for fire departments worldwide. Pennington has over 21 years in the fire service and currently holds the position of Firefighter/Paramedic in Charlestown, West Virginia. To learn more about Heavy Content Firefighting and options for training your fire department, visit Ryan Pennington is a leading authority and expert in Heavy Content Fire Fighting — also known as hoarder fire fighting. Pennington has lectured and trained thousands of firefighters and fire departments from across the United States and internationally. He is the founder of ChamberofHoarders.com which is the leading Heavy Content Firefighting Online Training Academy for fire departments worldwide. Pennington has over 21 years in the fire service and currently holds the position of Firefighter/Paramedic in Charlestown, West Virginia. To learn more about Heavy Content Firefighting and options for training your fire department, visit ChamberofHoarders.com, email [email protected] and on twitter at @jumpseatviews.
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