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New processes and guidance - clutter/hoarding
Residential fires involving significant clutter or hoarding are extremely dangerous for both occupants and firefighters.
The increased risks in these environments can be life threatening. We must become familiar with this fire issue and how to effectively handle it.
CFA has new processes and guidance materials in place for members to address fire safety issues associated with high levels of clutter/hoarding.
But first what is hoarding and the associated fire risks? Hoarding is the persistent accumulation of, and lack of ability to part with, large numbers of objects or animals. It results in extreme clutter in or around a home; often making areas of the house unusable for the purpose in which they were meant to be used. People living amongst excessive clutter or hoarded possessions live with a higher risk of starting fires due to; excessive materials being too close to ignition sources; unsafe/make-shift cooking and heating practices; and unsafe use of utilities.
A home where hoarding is present is often chaotic. Clutter could be stacked unstably from floor to ceiling, metres deep and at risk of falling over or caving in. It could be piled high in rooms, hallways, along walls and in front of entrances/exits restricting movement of occupants and firefighters and increases their risk of becoming trapped. It can hamper search and rescue efforts, increase the risk of structural collapse and can make the fire tougher to fight, requiring additional effort and resources to extinguish. Neighbours can be quickly affected when a fire occurs, due to excessive smoke and fire conditions, particularly units or apartments. The clutter will most likely develop to a more advanced state and persist for a long length of time despite the risks and advice or efforts to remove it. These circumstances can result in multiple turnouts by CFA to the same address.
We support a risk reduction approach in the first instance, while longer term specialised support is provided to individuals through other services, such as the Department of Health and Human Services or clinical or mental health services. CFA’s focus is the provision of appropriate fire safety advice and response.
A new reporting system is now available for CFA members to flag concerns about properties with high levels of clutter. It is to be used when CFA members have attended a residence and been concerned by high levels of clutter. This report can be found at Brigades Online < Fire & Emergencies < Incident Management < Report High Levels of Clutter.
Once the report is submitted by CFA members, it prompts HQ Community Safety to arrange a discreet ‘High Fuel Load’ warning to be placed in turnout information for future attendance at the same address. This warning increases firefighter preparation, safety and response. HQ Community Safety can also provide specific fire safety advice directly to the resident to assist them to reduce their fire risks.
- Operations Bulletin 2017/007: Residential Hoarding/High Clutter is provided to all CFA members to highlight the risks involved and safety precautions to be considered when dealing with hoarding/high levels of clutter.
- Recognising and Reporting Problematic Residential Clutter is a quick reference guide to assist members to recognise levels of clutter that require reporting, how to report, what the risks are, safety advice and actions, and where to seek further advice.
- Using the Clutter Image Rating Scale (CIRS) is a guide that contains the CIRS, an explanation on what it is and how to use it.
- FAQ CFA High Clutter and Hoarding Processes provide the answers to frequently asked questions about CFAs processes for addressing issues with high clutter/hoarding.
- Talking to Media Guide – Excess Clutter provides advice to CFA members on appropriate language and key messages when talking to the media about incidents/events where excess clutter was present.
- Hoarded Possessions and High Levels of Clutter in Homes – A Guide for CFA Members is a comprehensive guide to assist our members in dealing with residential clutter and hoarding. It details all of our organisations new procedures, identifies roles and responsibilities, and incorporates tools, forms and templates to increase efficiency, maintain consistency of information, and protect privacy.
CFA website information on the fire risks of hoarding and risk reduction can be located here: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/fire-risks-of-hoarding/