The Chief Fire Officers Association has helped to increase awareness of the risks of hoarding among the fire and rescue community and strategic partners as part of the first-ever Hoarding Awareness Week [19-25 May].
With the London Fire Brigade recently highlighting the increased fire risk faced by hoarders, CFOA's awareness week was aimed at encouraging greater partnership working to help those who demonstrate a tendency to hoard or clutter and to promote the sharing of good practice.
CFOA President Paul Fuller said: "There are a number of very specific issues found in hoarding properties which can put both the occupants and firefighters in danger during a fire. Developing stronger links with other agencies will allow us work together to help those who display a tendency to hoard, reduce the risk of fire in these properties and protect the community and firefighters.”
Fire and Rescue Services across the country supported the week by organising events, delivering information, and working with partners, including those from the housing and health sectors, adult and community services and bluelight colleagues.
Chief among these was the LFB, who unveiled new data showing that hoarding has been a factor in nearly 20 fire deaths in London over the past three years, with firefighters attending around two fires a week in the homes of hoarders.
Cluttered rooms cause spread like wildfire
To consistently identify the level of hoarding in homes across the capital, fire crews use a clutter image rating of between one to four, for normal levels, and, up to nine for the most serious cases. Where a resident is identified as having hoarding tendencies, fire officers talk with the hoarder and depending on the level of clutter inform the local social services.
A heavily cluttered room takes a lot less energy to reach flashover conditions and will cause the fire to burn for longer and spread more rapidly. Hoarded properties also increase the risk to residents and firefighters as escape routes are routinely blocked. A flashover is the near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly exposed combustible material in an enclosed area.
The risk of serious injury and loss of life is not confined to hoarders or their neighbours, hoarded properties also put firefighters in danger. The Brigade has released pictures of a fire in Blackheath this year which shows the dangerous levels of clutter which severely hampered firefighters attempts to deal with the fire. Fire crews had to remove the rear window as entry to the property was impossible. Thankfully the resident had only minor smoke inhalation and no firefighters were injured.
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “Fires in cluttered homes can spread like wildfire, putting those who live them at serious risk of injury or worse and potentially endangering our firefighters who go to tackle them.
“We’re committed to working with people with hoarding tendencies and are calling on them and their friends and family to arrange a free home fire safety visit with us so that we can help them stay safe.”
For all the key highlights from Hoarding Awareness Week visit: www.cfoa.org.uk/HoardingAwarenessWeek2014