How Hoarding Increases Fire Danger and How to Reduce Risk
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) many fire departments are experiencing serious fires, injuries and deaths as the result of compulsive hoarding behavior. A particular concern is the chaotic nature of the material in many hoarding households, where blocked windows and exits can make fire attack and rescue difficult.
What is Hoarding?
Hoarding is defined as collecting or keeping large amounts of various items in the home due to strong urges to save them or distress experienced when discarding them. This behavior can lead to the piling up of items like newspapers, magazines, empty containers, old clothing, paper, rotting food, animals and occasionally animal manure inside or around a house. Hoarding is a mental disorder that can be genetic in nature, triggered by traumatic events, or a symptom of another disorder, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or dementia.
Hoarding Leads to Increased Fire Danger
The stacking and placement of some materials can trigger a fire, make a fire spread more rapidly and be harder to contain, and/or make it more difficult for occupants to escape or for emergency responders to get to people in need. According to the NFPA, residents in hoarding households often are killed when a fire breaks out in the home.
Fires that happen in hoarding households are also more dangerous for emergency responders. They often require nearly twice the manpower than that of a typical residential home fire. Responding firefighters can be put at risk due to obstructed exits, falling objects, and excessive fire loading that can lead to collapse. Excessive smoke and fire conditions can impact neighbors living adjacent to a hoarding household, as well.
Help Reduce Fire Risk and Improve Safety
When talking to a friend or loved one about conditions in the home, try to focus on safety rather than the clutter. Encourage him or her to make changes that will improve safety in the home and prevent fires. The following are key actions that will help make a hoarding household safer:
- Make it priority to keep the cooking area clean and free of debris.
- Do not store cylinders in the home as they are a serious fire hazard.
- Do not place items close to heaters or other electrical equipment.
- Do not stack items so high that they can easily fall over and become unstable.
- Do not store newspapers, magazines or mail in bulk — These items are highly flammable and will cause a fire to spread more rapidly.
- Install working smoke alarms in the home. Test them at least once a month.
- Make a home safety and escape plan. Stress the importance of clear pathways and exits. Practice the plan often, and keep in mind that exit routes may change as new items are brought into the home.
Consider alerting your local fire department to conditions inside the home. This will help first responders know what to expect and be better prepared in the event there is a fire at the home. The City of Melbourne Fire Prevention office can be reached at 321-608-7910.
For More Information
For more information on fire safety and hoarding, please see the NFPA’s safety tip sheet on hoarding.
Some of these tips were reproduced from NFPA’s website, www.nfpa.org/publiceducation. ©NFPA.