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Firefighters offer help to chronic hoarders

By Linda Russell, lrussell@ky3.com
Robin Foster, ryancey@schurz.com
Published On: Apr 09 2014 04:31:38 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 09 2014 05:24:55 PM CDT

They can block access to a home during a rescue and can make a fire harder to put out.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -

Hoarding is such a widespread problem that entire TV shows are devoted to it.   It's a problem that affects more than just the people living among the mess, however.

That's why the Springfield Fire Department is getting involved.  Firefighters say they see it more frequently: houses filled with and surrounded by stuff.  It makes their jobs more challenging and dangerous.

Springfield firefighters are familiar with hoarding issues. 

"I would say, on a probably monthly basis, we're into some kind of structure that I would classify in that area or realm," said Springfield Fire Capt. Alex Clark.

Hoarding may be mental health-related or a behavioral issue.

"A lot of times, people might just find that they have trash piling up, and it's little by little by little, and, eventually, they realize, 'I have so much trash, I don't know what to do with it,'" said Springfield Fire and Life Safety educator Cara Restelli Erwin.

The piles become not only unsightly but also dangerous in a fire. 

"We're already working kind of in the blind, using our other senses in a smoky environment, and then you compound that with crawling over debris.  You can't walk, you're tripping," said Clark.

In a fire in 2012 in Springfield, firefighters reported piles of garbage on the floor.  The report says a firefighter was unable to move the victim any farther without help due to the large volume of debris.  The victim later died.

"We think it's going be easy to access a door, and it's very hard and difficult, because it's piled full of stuff," said Clark.

Now, the Springfield Fire Department is partnering with several agencies to address hoarding problems. 

"I think the biggest thing is just educating people that these issues, whether it's hoarding or severe squalor, it's having an impact not only on the people who live there, but also the people who go there," Erwin said.

They'll help connect folks with help, like mental health services or cleanup on a voluntary basis. 

"It's being that helpful neighbor, and that's what we want to do as the fire department: be that help to an individual that has that kind of problem," said Clark.

Agencies involved hope to ultimately create healthier, safer homes.  The Community Partnership of the Ozarks has formed a collaborative of organizations to address hoarding. 

To learn what help is available, call (417) 864-1699 or look on the City of Springfield's hoarding resources website.