As firefighters, we know that when we hear this term, we’re in for a rough one. For those that may not know what it is, it’s a term for a bad hoarding situation within a structure. Where did this term come from? Why is this important for us to know? How do we deal with it when we stumble upon one? What are some measures we should take?
A Brief History of Collyer’s Mansion Conditions
The term came from the Collyer brothers who lived in a Harlem Brownstone in New York around the 1940’s. The duo became notorious for their collection of garbage and other bizarre items stored within their residence. Being that they were fairly wealthy, people who tried breaking into the home would be met with booby traps and piles of garbage. The amount of weight that was bearing down on the structure, and the floor to ceiling garbage that prevented any maintenance, led to the building being razed after the brothers passed away. Considering other people had this type of disorder, every similar hoarding case became known as Collyer’s Mansion Conditions.
Identifying CMC’s and How to Deal With Them
Believe it or not, there are a lot more hoarders around than you think. Even the homes that look great on the outside might have a mess within. The problem is that we typically don’t know about these situations until we get there. They vary from a whole house full of trash, one single room full of trash, or it may be moderate enough where you can walk through the building. One thing is for certain, they pose an immediate risk to firefighters. Think about how difficult it can be to move a hoseline through a house. Now add piles of trash bags, tools, clothes, furniture, you name it, and you have a whole different scenario.
Ultimately, depending on the situation you encounter at a fire, the OIC is going to determine the risk vs. reward factor. Nobody is in the house and the doors are barely opening? No firefighter’s are going inside that building. Chances are, if you had a victim trapped, it wouldn’t be possible to get them. The other thing to consider is the IDLH. A lot of major hoarding cases have contained toxic chemicals or decomposing animals or even humans. There’s really no limit to understanding what’s trapped underneath that garbage.
The other problem is the integrity of the structure. You learned that the home of the Collyer brothers was in such bad shape that the city decided to tear it down. That can be the case for us as well. Add heat and water weight to that equation and you have yourself a tragedy. There’s also the case that it may be just one room of the house that’s jammed, but if that room happens to be a basement or living room, things could get ugly quick for the guys inside.
There are a few ways however to be prepared for situations like this. First and foremost is documenting these situations every time you come across one. For example; EMS alarms, CO alarms, etc. A simple notification to dispatch that you have a Collyer’s Mansion Condition or hoarding situation can go a long way in the case there’s a fire at that address. Be clear to them how bad the situation is or what room it’s in or anything else you might see when you’re there. Another way is to notify the municipality you operate within. It’s not a crime to be a hoarder, but if you think the structure is uninhabitable, the proper notifications need to be made. The last thing you want is a crew to respond to that address not knowing the dangers within.
The likelihood of you having a hoarder within your district is fairly high. It doesn’t mean notify the town because somebody has toys laying all over the living room. What you’re looking out for is anything that blocks an entry or exit, anything that would require you move out of the way to get through a room, or anything that requires you to squeeze through to get from point A to point B. Report anything that you wouldn’t be happy with encountering at a fire. The only way we can do our jobs is if we’re safe too.
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