We hear the term “Collyer’s Mansion conditions” thrown around a lot. As soon as you hear it visions of crap piled floor to ceiling pop into your mind. With good reason, the Collyer brothers really set the bar in the hoarding game. If you want to know more about them go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collyer_brothers
This type of hoarding really didn’t start getting properly identified until the turn of this century. It was mostly thought of as a form of OCD, which most often it is not. The diagnosis of hoarding is still being determined. The current diagnostic criteria for hoarding is still just a proposal for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , or DSM-V which is due in May this year. It is a VERY complicated mental issue, but, that is not our concern. Our concern as firefighters is the well being of the neighborhood first and the hoarder’s well being second.
There are more ways to classify hoarders than anyone can imagine: Pure Hoarding, Hoarding plus OCD, organized hoarder, Common hoarder, animal hoarder, etc, etc… Just to show that this phenomenon is still not understood. Either way 3-5% of the population can be diagnosed with some type of hoarding disorder (#1)
When we come across a property that looks like it’s occupied by a hoarder the first thing to remember is that this is a private residence and it is not up to us to dictate how someone should maintain their home. It is first and foremost a legal minefield that we just stepped into.
DO NOT JUDGE. The Mayo Clinic says many hoarders have limited social interactions (#2) and we most likely will put them on the defensive right away and reduce any chance of remedying the problem. The 2 that I have had to deal with I walked through the property and acted like it was normal, asked them about social interactions and family. I also asked them if they had smoke detectors and what was their plan to exit in case of a fire.
Asking around the firehouse I’ve come up with 8-10 stories involving hoarders. Most of them did not end well for the homeowner. Most of them involved the home owner dying and the neighbor calling because of the smell. A couple of the stories involved fires, one of them the occupant was not found until a week after the fire, buried under the stuff she had acquired.
If you have to write them up for something remember to not make it an issue about them or the stuff, but make it about the threat to the neighborhood. Our most recent hoarder lives in a single family home. We got called to the house because of a repair man he had at the house called 911 to complain. I advised the homeowner to make sure all exits were easy to use in case he had a medical emergency or if there was a fire. Honestly there is very little benefit in writing up an 81 year old man for hoarding. mainly because there is no law, and secondly because it will not accomplish anything. I also reported him to the “Hoarding task force” that the city runs because they are better equipped to handle these things.
I have joined my city’s Hoarding Task Force and I’ll have more info shortly.