Hoarding issue affects first responders

 Fire chief Steve Goode wants to make people aware of the impact of hoarding – not only to an individual – but to emergency services personnel.

Goode said that the condition of compulsive hoarding is a pattern of behaviour characterized by the inability or unwillingness to discard a large quantity of items within a home.

“The behaviour itself is often severe because those that are hoarding do not identify it as an actual problem.”

Goode said hoarding brings distress and emotional health concerns.

His message to the public is that there are risks associated with hoarding.

Why hoarding increases fire risks

– Cooking is unsafe if flammable items are close to the stove or oven.

– Heating units may be placed on unstable surfaces. If heaters tip over into a pile, it can cause a fire.

– Electrical wiring (cords) may be worn from the weight of the piles. Pests chew on the wires. Damaged wires can catch fire.

– Open flames from smoking materials or candles in a home with excess clutter is very dangerous.

– Blocked pathways and exits may hinder escape from a fire.

How hoarding impacts first responders

– Firefighters cannot move swiftly through a home filled with clutter.

– Responders can get trapped in a home with blocked exits. Objects falling from piles can trap and injure them.

– The weight of stored objects and the weight of water in a fire can cause collapse.

– Firefighters and EMS personnel have difficulty providing medical care. Clutter also impedes the search for residents and pets.

How can you help?

-When talking with a hoarder focus on safety not clutter.

– Help residents make a home safety and escape plan. Stress the importance of clear pathways and exits. Practise the plan often.

– Ensure smoke alarms are working and test them monthly.

– Reach out to community resources. Talk to the local fire department to alert them of any concerns. They will be able to connect concerned individuals with a hoarding task force for additional help.

Goode said the department does provide training for staff relating to hoarding.

“There is a great website for the Wellington Guelph Hoarding Network (wghoardingresponse.ca) which provides information on hoarding and lists local organizations and resources available in Wellington County and Waterloo Region,” he said.

Goode noted that recently, CCAC (Community Care Access Centre) informed Puslinch Fire and Rescue Services of a case in Puslinch.

“It’s very difficult to deal with these cases. What people have to understand is even though their homes are sacred, we do have rights under the Fire Prevention and Protection Act to protect people from any fire risk,” he said.

When the CCAC goes into a home and finds a hoarding situation, they will call in the local fire department.

“In this particular case, it was a serious threat that had to be dealt with immediately,” Goode said.

“Essentially we provided working smoke and CO2 detectors and spent two hours with them convincing them it was an issue and helped create a path for them to escape the second floor.”

Goode said this is important information for people to have.

He added that Puslinch is not alone in this – hoarding is an issue in most municipalities.