We all have them, and we all have the same reaction to them. In the fire service, they go by different terms but we all groan when we get on scene and see it. Collyers Mansion, Clutter, or Hoarders. Hoarders and clutter can cause some problems on the fire ground, from delaying access to the fire room or even just gaining access to the fire building or apartment. Ventilation for search will be slowed, and primary searches will be slowed down. One of the bigger issues for firefighting efforts will be the hose lines may have trouble reaching the seat of the fire. When first on the scene of a Collyer’s Mansion, it is important to communicate to all units that clutter conditions exist and to try and gauge the amount of clutter to everyone on the fire ground.
There are 3 terms you can use to convey the amount of clutter to units and the IC while operating inside so he can gauge the effectiveness and lengthiness of the fire attack. Light, medium, and heavy clutter. Light
clutter is your basic un-kept house. Not clean or clear but really won’t affect the hose line and search operations. Fire load is normal and a hand line should have zero issue with this. Searchers won’t be delayed and ventilation/ VES should be done with relative ease. In medium clutter, your first clue that it’s not a light clutter may be if the front door doesn’t open all the way due to items up against it and restricting its movement. Hallways will be tighter (probably a small space that will be near impossible to pass with gearon). With medium clutter, the concern for entanglement is increased during the search. Also, with years of little to no maintenance, there may be faster fire spread due to holes in walls or floors. With medium conditions, primary searches are possible but may be delayed. Secondaries will definitely be delayed as clearing the clutter is a priority. Heavy clutter is exactly what you would expect. Access to the building and rooms is severely restricted, searches will be almost impossible and hose line maneuverability will be difficult or impossible. Fire loads will be high and a 2.5″ might be needed. While inside the risk of an avalanche of debris is high and entanglement hazards will be everywhere. To do primary and secondary searches may take extraordinary measures.
Fire operations in light and even light-medium conditions are possible and shouldn’t be too difficult. Once you start getting into heavy clutter will alternate strategies might be needed. As with every fire, a push should always be done and attempted for whatever victims may be inside. Communicating interior conditions and having a grading system like mentioned above can give IC’s and more importantly other units an idea of whats inside and what they might have to do to do fire suppression activities. Take your time and be smart.