The danger of hoarder fires

Agencies explain how firefighters are hampered by piles of items

The Mount Laurel, Evesham, and Burlington County IAFF ( International Association of Fire Fighters) locals will host a presentation next month to prevent the increasing number of hoarder house fires.

Chris Santone, battalion chief for the Mount Laurel Fire Department, noted the decision to initiate the presentation came after firefighters noticed a recent uptick for fires in homes with hoarding conditions. The department then discussed partnering with the county and Evesham locals to host an informative event on a larger scale to reach more residents.

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“Over the past couple years, hoarding seems to be getting worse, especially for us in the fire service,” Santone said. “We see it quite often when we’re on incidental fire calls (such as) a medical run or if a fire alarm goes off.

“After a couple of back-to-back fires in the winter time (caused by homes with hoarding), a few of us brainstormed the idea of doing a joint effort at a larger venue and seeing if we could get a crowd and make a push for some better education on it,” he added.

The fire presentation will cover pre-planning, tactics and strategies, incident management and public education.  It will be led by Tim Klett, a 40-year fire service veteran who spent three decades with the New York City Fire Department. He has taught at several fire academies and currently is the lead H.O.T. (hands-on training) instructor for the Fire Department Training Network in Indiana.

Santone explained that during a fire situation, piles of hoarded items in a house can cause a blaze to spread and grow more quickly.  The situation requires additional water usage from firefighters and can potentially compromise the safety and structural integrity of the home. 

“There’s more to burn in a hoarding home,” he explained. “For example, if we’re dumping 600 gallons of water a minute into a house to try and extinguish a fire, and it has 4- or 5-foot-high piles of debris from hoarding, then you’re adding all that weight per minute to that house. 

“(Firefighters then have to be concerned) if that house will be structurally stable enough to withstand up to 5,000 gallons of water and also be safe for us to search afterwards.”

The presentation will be held in Votta Hall at Rowan College at Burlington County in Mount Laurel on Oct. 22. Doors will open at 8:30 a.m. and the event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 and can be bought in advance or at the door via Venmo (pay to @MLFD4408), check or cashT.  There will be light refreshments and vendors. 

Following the presentation there will be a Dine and Donate raffle whose location will be announced prior to the event. Proceeds will benefit a local family that suffered a fire loss. 

Anyone with additional questions or interest in sponsoring the event can call Santone at (609) 820-6122. For updates on the raffle location and other information,  follow the Mount Laurel IAFF 4408 Facebook page.

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