REPORT ON THE RUTHERFORD HOARDER HOUSE FIRE AND SOME GOOD POINTS ON FIRES IN THESE TYPES OF HOUSES
Around 1500 hrs units from Swatara Twp and surrounding jurisdictions were dispatched to Box 45-2 at Somerset St for a structure fire with possible entrapment. Engine 45 (Rutherford) arrived on scene quickly after dispatch and reported smoke showing. E45’s crew (Chief Patterson and FF Patterson) quickly stretched a 1 ¾ line through the front door. Engine 44 (Lawnton) arrived shortly after assisting E45 with establishing a water supply. At this point it was still unknown if the home owner was still inside. Chief 44 Ibberson was given search and rescue with FF Long from Co. 44. Chief 49 and FF Dobyns were also added to the search group. Upon entering the structure crews quickly realized they were entering a collier’s mansion (hoarder house) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collyer_brothers search group immediately advised command of this. With almost zero visibility conditions on division one this hampered both fire attack and search crew’s abilities greatly. The search on division one turned out to be negative. Search crews then were tasked with trying to locate the fire. Crews realized they were dealing with a basement fire but do to the clutter in the house they had a hard time locating the basement door. When crews opened the basement door they were immediately faced with high heat and zero visibility. Crews used a thermal imaging camera to locate the fire. Due to the clutter advancing the hose line too and through the basement was an extreme challenge. Once the fire was located crews were unable to make access without moving piles of derbies out of the way. Due to the extreme heat conditions crews quickly changed their tactics to move as derbies out of the way while holding the fire in check and get out so another crew could have easy access to the fire to get it under control. Crews then had to complete extensive overhaul operations.
This was a very unique fire, crews were encountered with two very dangerous aspects of firefighting one being a basement fire and two being the structure was a hoarder house. Crews also had to deal with a heat index over 100 degrees. There are a number of challenges crews will encounter when entering a hoarder house.
· When entering a hoarder house immediately advise command of the conditions so all units operating are aware of the dangers.
· Search and Rescue can be extremely challenging.
· Hose line advancement is also very challenging due to debris and only small paths to crawl or walk though.
· Crews trying to locate the fire and search a hoarder house may need to lift and move a lot of clutter out of the way to advance through a house. This may cause physical exhaustion quickly. Always remember not to pile things on your hose line or path of exit.
· High fire loads stacked to the ceiling, which cause extreme heat conditions and flash over risk.
· Have a crew clear paths for RIT crews so they will have easy access in a mayday situation.
· Always consider risk vs. benefit. Risk a lot to save a lot, risk nothing to save nothing.
· Identify known hoarder houses on maps and computers. It’s hard to know from the exterior which houses are hoarder house, pay attention on medical and other types of calls.
· Sometimes the best thing to do is not to enter at all.
Story by Correspondent Mike Ibberson Fire Chief of the Lawnton (44) Fire Company
Courtesy of Central PA Bravest