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The Collyers Mansion

In 1947 the Collyer Brothers were found dead among about 100 tons of junk ranging from phone books, to doll heads. Granted this was not because of a fire but ever since that day ever person to go through FDNY’s Probie School has been taught the term “Collyers Mansion Conditions”

It is called “Packer House” in the Midwest, “Habitrail House” on the West Coast, and here in the south-east (Well Virginia anyway) we call it “hoarding”. No matter the term the dangerous all remain the same.

I got to thinking about this last night while on shift. We responded to a report of a fire in a house flames visible. When we arrived we found a huge pile of wood on fire underneath an elevated 2nd floor screened in porch. Another few minutes and the entire C side would have been cooking. we stretched a line and had some companies go interior to check for extension. They found smoke and a lot of “stuff” so much stuff that the side A door was blocked and couldn’t be opened. I told some of the guys that this was “Collyers Mansion Conditions” and only a few of them got it, so I said “hoarding” and they went ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (always know your audience not everyone is as big a fire nerd as you are).

Make no mistake these things are a big deal! Take a look at the picture below

Think about all of the things this “stuff” could be hiding from us. It could be hiding damage to the house, victims, fire, animals, etc. The damage could become critical when you place it under fire conditions, and add the weight of fireman in PPE, and water. Do that equation and it equals COLLAPSE! It could also hinder forcible entry, search and rescue, and hose line advancement.

One way we can combat this is identification. People invite us into their homes all the time for safety surveys, smoke detector installs, and the dreaded EMS call. Take a moment to look around, it will not take a lot of “snooping” to identify some things that we need to know in order to make us better in case of a fire.

The second thing we can do to combat this is communication. Simply put when you find things that could hinder our operations, or impact firefighter safety then tell people. Circle it in your map book, put a hazard message in your CAD system, write it on your daily shift report, tell the guys at shift change, email the details to surrounding companies, even include it in your prearrival instructions when responding to an emergency. If you discover it while actually operating at an emergency all the companies operating, including Command and the Safety Officer need to be made aware ASAP. A simple radio message such as:

“Engine 99 to Command, we have Hoarding conditions on the interior, all companies proceed with caution”

Bottom line is DO NOT KEEP THIS A SECRET!!! The information you pass along could save your life or your brother’s life.

Sit down today and discuss this with your crew, and discuss your game plan for dealing with this type of occupancy.

Also do not forget to keep following along on twitter @averagejakeff

As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!

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