First responders warn of increased hoarding dangers

Investigations

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — First responders in Pennsylvania say the state has a hoarding problem.

“There is a patient population that likes to collect things and unfortunately they also tend to have medical problems,” said Nathan Harig, the assistant chief of administration at Cumberland Goodwill EMS.

Hoarding is a mental disorder where people collect to keep large amounts of items in their home. However, the issue is becoming a growing safety risk for first responders. 

“When we’re responding to them, we might not have the access to get our stretchers to the patient or even to carry our gear without it coming into contamination with insects, bed bugs,” said Harig.

Harig says his crews encounter hoarding on a weekly basis. They work with local fire departments to warn them about homes where hoarding is a fire hazard.

“We’ve had instances recently here in the Carlisle area where it was a known hoarding house that had multiple medical problems, but the fire chief was aware because we’ve interacted with them on the scene,” said Harig.

He says first responders work with patients to get them help if they believe their environment is dangerous. 

State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego says even if a fire is not caused by hoarding, the large amount of items in a home impacts how firefighters do their jobs.

“You have the danger of product falling on you and you obviously have narrow passageways to get to either the fire or the patient,” said Trego. 

Trego says hoarding is a big problem with senior citizens and it is often a difficult topic to address. Trego recommends families push safety and come up with a plan.

“Say hey, mom, you need to get out. I want to meet you at the front door. Let’s time it and see how long it takes you to get out there’,” said Trego.

Families can get tips on addressing hoarding through the Department of Adult Services. 

Harig and Trego also recommend homes have working fire alarms.

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