Spring has sprung, finally, so it’s time for a spring clean around the house. Apart from a fresh start to the new season, a de-clutter could save your life.
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Hoarding accounts for eight per cent of all fatal house fires, one in every 12 fatalities involves a hoarding residence, according to statistics from Fire and Rescue NSW.
One third of those fatalities involve people over 60 years of age.
FRNSW Duty Commander, Kernin Lambert, described hoarding as a major problem.
“The fire is going to spread more rapidly and there is going to be more material burning, so there is going to be more fire. The occupants have trouble getting out, they can’t escape from it, and we can’t get in,” he explained.
Those are the exact conditions that Mid-Western region firefighters faced at a deadly blaze in Kandos on July 25. A 78-year-old man lost his life in the blaze which started in a house-like structure at the back of the property.
Inspector Lambert, explained at the time “the structure contained tightly packed materials from floor to ceiling greatly increasing the fires intensity and severely hindering the ability of firefighters to carry out the rescue”.
It’s a stark warning for the Mid-Western region, as a local family and community mourn the loss of a father, brother, friend.
“People need to be aware of the dangers, they do need to be aware, as they start accumulating more and more material their house does become vulnerable to an increased risk of a fire,” inspector Lambert said.
“When that fire does occur that fire will be more intense, it will be faster spreading
“I’ve seen in my career some horrendous situations where firefighters have had to gain access to a hoarding residence,” he explained.
“We wear breathing apparatus, very heavy equipment and we take a lot of tools with us into fight fires, it is a nightmare trying to get into a hoarders residence to fight a fire.”
“For us it is a nightmare.”
Fire and Rescue have no powers of inspection into a hoarders house but they can lodge a concern with recommend specialist agencies.
The agencies will go into the home and talk to the owner about the concerns.
Inspector Lambert explained the “matter can be escalated to Council”.
“We can have intervention from the local Council under the health and amenities regulations, if the problem is that serious,” he said.
“We get a lot of concerned residents contacting us concerned about what will happen if there is a fire, that’s when we ask the Council to intervene.
A hoarder has an ongoing difficulty throwing out or parting with possessions, even if they are useless or of limited value.
Some quick tips for the FRNSW:
Hoarding is a complex issue which requires intervention and long term support from appropriate agencies. Even if action is taken to remove materials from a hoarder's house, because of the attachment to the behaviour, it creates a high level of stress and the hoarder usually immediately replicates the behaviour, often within days or weeks.
The FRNSW recommends that in the first instance, individuals or agencies assisting those affected by hoarding should:
Things to be considered on larger Sole Occupancy Unit (SOU) complexes where hoarding is present:
FRNSW cannot inspect residential premises without permission, even if they are suspected of being a fire hazard, as fire services do not have any powers of entry unless there is a fire emergency. Any fire risk concern associated with hoarding should be forwarded to the FRNSW on the ‘Hoarding and Squalor fire risk report’ available below. As the FRNSW cannot engage directly with the occupant, the concern will be forwarded to the relevant Council as a health and amenity concern for action.
Hoarding increases the risk of fire because:
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