Hoarding and Squalor Fire Safety
In NSW, fires in hoarding households represent 8% or one in twelve of all fire fatalities since 2000. One third of these fire fatalities were aged 60 years and over (FRNSW Fire Investigation & Research Unit, August 2009).
Hoarding has been known to increase the risks of fire because:
- The accumulation of possessions results in an abnormally high fuel load which provides a much greater opportunity for ignition.
- Blocked exits and narrow internal pathways impede escape for the occupant and make firefighting difficult.
- Utilities such as electricity are often disconnected or misused. Non functional utilities can result in the occupant conducting unsafe practices when cooking and heating.
Hoarding is a complex issue which requires intervention and long term support from appropriate agencies. Even if action is taken to remove materials from a hoarder's house, because of the attachment to the behaviour, it creates a high level of stress and the hoarder usually immediately replicates the behaviour, often within days or weeks.
The FRNSW recommends that in the first instance, individuals or agencies assisting those affected by hoarding should:
- Install smoke alarms and test them.
- Unblock exits.
- Widen internal pathways.
- Get utilities reconnected for the resident as soon as possible.
- Ensure safe cooking and heating areas.
Things to be considered on larger Sole Occupancy Unit (SOU) complexes where hoarding is present:
- Installed sprinkler system could be compromised by increased fuel loads with the possibility of being overrun or high levels of storage causing a shielding effect between the sprinkler and the fire.
- Fire stairs are not permitted to have any storage located in the stairs. It is an offence to impede free access of a person in fire stairs and fines can be imposed.
- Ensure doors to SOUs are fire doors with a self closer installed.
- Stored items in common areas could reduce required egress width and contribute to fire spread.
FRNSW cannot inspect residential premises without permission, even if they are suspected of being a fire hazard, as fire services do not have any powers of entry unless there is a fire emergency. Any fire risk concern associated with hoarding should be forwarded to the FRNSW on the ‘Hoarding and Squalor fire risk report’ available below. As the FRNSW cannot engage directly with the occupant, the concern will be forwarded to the relevant Council as a health and amenity concern for action.