PIKESVILLE — Six Marylanders lost their lives to fire in recent weeks, with hoarding conditions discovered in three during the course of the investigations. Hoarding is defined as collecting or keeping large amounts of various items in the home due to strong urges to save them or distress experienced when discarding them. This behavior can lead to the piling up of items like newspapers, magazines, empty containers, old clothing, paper, rotting food, animals, and occasionally animal manure inside or around a house. “Our biggest goal is the life safety and health of not only of the person living within the home but anyone living around them, ” stated State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), between three and five percent of the population struggles with hoarding, a mental disorder characterized by an individual’s inability to discard personal possessions. The large amount of possessions fills a home and prevents the everyday use of the space. Excessive accumulation of material in homes poses a significant threat to firefighters responding to emergencies in these homes, as well as to residents and neighbors.
Hoarding increases the risk of fire ignition in a home because personal items may crowd cooking and heating equipment, causing them to catch fire. Occupants in these homes are at risk during a fire because blocked exits may prevent their escape, or materials could fall on them. In addition, hoarding puts first responders at risk due to obstructed exits, falling objects, and excessive fire loading, and it impedes their ability to search out and rescue people and pets.
If you know someone who struggles with hoarding disorder, there are several ways that you can help:
- When speaking with someone who hoards, match the language of the person, and avoid using derogatory terms, such as “junk” or “trash.” Focus on safety issues and small steps for addressing those issues instead of immediate, overwhelming cleanup.
- Help the resident make a home safety and escape plan. Stress the importance of clear pathways and exits.
- Contact your local fire department to alert them of your concerns. They may be able to connect you with a hoarding task force for additional help.
- Install working smoke alarms in the home. Test them at least once a month.
- Make a home safety and escape plan. Stress the importance of clear pathways and exits. Practice the plan often, and keep in mind that exit routes may change as new items are brought into the home.