Hoarding poses dangers to firefighters

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Some fire officials in Western New York said hoarding has been a bigger problem with fires than in the past.

Firefighters sometimes struggle through rooms filled with clutter and boxes to get to flames. It’s those situations firefighters say are downright dangerous.

“You can’t decipher if you’re finding a person, a piece of furniture, garbage, a dog or a cat.” Frank Malota, chief of the Seneca Hose Volunteer Fire Company, said.

Crews in Western New York know it all too well. Fire crews from Seneca Hose Fire Company in West Seneca battled flames at a home in 2014. The owner was not home, but the chief at the time said the fire was related to hoarding. Malota is now the current chief of Seneca Hose. He could not comment on any specific fire, but said hoarding situations are not uncommon.

“I see it a lot more than I would think,” he said.

Malota said he sees it not only with fires, but also EMS calls.

“We actually had to knock out a window and climb over stuff to get into the house because we had a report of someone ill,” Malota said.

It’s so dangerous that it can be deadly. Firefighters had to smash a window to try to get inside a home on fire in Batavia in 2013. A man in his 80’s did not make it out of the home. His wife survived, but fire crews said the couple had more than 20 cats inside and piles of belongings.

It’s a situation the Buffalo Fire Department takes seriously.

“It’s extremely dangerous for the men and women in the Buffalo Fire Department,” Buffalo fire commissioner, Garnell Whitfield, said. “The more that you have in there the more there’s able to burn.”

It’s not always what you would expect. Whitfield said homes that look tidy on the outside can be filled from top to bottom on the inside.

The Buffalo Fire Department does not have any specific training for hoarding situations, but they train for the best way to get in and out of a home. Whitfield said the best thing you can do is get rid of clutter to protect yourself and firefighters in the case of an emergency.

“We tend to hold on to things. Often times unbeknownst to us these create potential hazards if there is a fire or something like that,” Whitfield said.

The Buffalo Fire Department could not say how often hoarding is involved with fires because there is no system to track hoarding fires. A spokesperson said it’s also difficult to define hoarding because each person could see it differently.

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