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Video: Pulling the right line at hoarder house blazes

Crews will likely not know there are hoarding conditions inside, but the heavy fire conditions are the indicator to go big

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Every residential structure is really “every man’s castle.” We’re not privy to its contents, and we can’t preplan as we can with a commercial or public-accessible structure. When that structure catches fire, the fuel load is a mystery for crews until they are able to get inside for suppression or search efforts.

Over the last several years, firefighters have increasingly encountered residential structures that are classified as a hoarding situation or a hoarder’s home. This term is not new, but for those new to the fire service or unfamiliar with these conditions, a hoarder’s home typically involves a situation where the resident accumulates stuff, stores it, giving nothing away. Such content could include new items, sometimes purchased in mass quantities; old items kept from their life, possibly dating back decades; even consumable that are used but not discarded.

Hoarder conditions present many hazards, the primary hazard being the fuel load. Such a dense fuel load requires immediate attention in the form of our go-to agent – water! The initial hoseline pulled must be the right one the first time to overcome the massive fuel load and high heat release rates being produced.

In our accompanying video, the first-arriving crews encounter heavy fire conditions. This is evident from the self-venting fire on the Alpha side.

The first hoseline pulled is the standard 1¾-inch line, and we can see the immediate effect it has on the heavy fire conditions. Right behind the first hoseline is the 2½” line.

We can see the difference made by the larger hoseline, which allows for more water (gpms or lpms) to help overcome the high heat release rates.

The first-arriving crews are not going to know if the structure is a hoarding situation unless they have been there before for medical calls or other reasons, but they will at least see the heavy fire conditions – the indicator to pull either a 1¾-inch or 2½-inch line right off the bat.

Pulling a larger hoseline first is not going to cause any more harm compared to pulling a smaller line first that will likely have little effect in the first five minutes of a dangerous blaze.

Training time

After watching this video and reading this article with your company, crews should take time to train on the following:

  • Pulling the 2½-inch hoseline and advancing it to a structure for interior work;
  • Using different methods for handling a 2½-inch line when flowing water with only one or two members available; and then
  • Making the push with the 2½-inch line with only two member.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.