SLICERS Approach to Hoarder Fires: February

SLICERS Approach to Hoarder Fires

When science meets the fire service there are many benefits provided to the people making the street level decisions on how to attack fires. With the recent release of the S.L.I.C.E.R.S. acronym for tactical decision making we are more informed than ever. How we choose to apply this ground breaking research will be made at the street level.  Much like the age old smooth versus fog debate there may not be a “true” answer on the best application of SLICERS, but may be many different applications of each.

One common application is the use of the SLICERS decision making in fighting Hoarder Fires.  By following the suggested tactical flow of SLICERS you will give the crew an increased level of safety and reduce the risk they are being exposed to. Hoarding conditions can complicate many issues of fireground functions and provide an elevated amount of risk to interior firefighters. Applying this new tactical decision making process will allow crews to reduce fire volume, open up secondary means of entry, allow time for extra manpower to arrive, and provide access  for a good inspection of the structural supports of the building.

Often hoarding conditions should not be entered to perform interior operations due to excessive risk for the firefighters, which are where the SLICERS approach of cooling from the safest location is a “best practice”.  Let’s take a look at how SLICERS should be applied to Hoarder Fires.

S: Size up

The first letter represents an accurate size up of the scene. This size up begins with the first alert of the dispatch.  Listening for cues and clues of on scene conditions while responding can give you an indication of hoarding. Dispatchers repeating “caller advised the doors are blocker” or “ caller states that occupants are hoarders” are two examples of clues that you are responding to hoarded condition.  Upon arrival it is vital that first arriving officers walk around the burning building.  Cues and clues that indicate hoarding include overgrown shrubs, large privacy fences, and cars full of clutter. If you find one or more of these conditions you will need to inspect the building closer looking for clutter in the windows and blocked doors.

In the initial assessment of the building close attention must be paid to the entire surroundings. Often in hoarding conditions the occupant will have multiple storage containers, unused vehicles, or may only have some overgrown trees and bushes.  Whether it is one or many identifying that something is “not normal” can lead to the discovery of hoarding conditions.  If you identify any of these variables you will need to dig deeper for a confirmation of hoarding.

L Locate

While making their way around the building officers should use their thermal imaging cameras to identify the hottest parts of the structure. Discovering the fires whereabouts now and where it is heading can help direct the first stream application. Using these tools can also expose the primary entrance routes of the occupants.  Many compulsive hoarders do not use the primary entrances and exits. They will often fill their homes until these primary routes of entry are unusable.  Understanding this the officer should spend extra time searching for windows, garage doors, and other methods the occupant can use for exits.  

When analyzing the thermal view the officer should try to establish if the fire has began to vent from windows or is in a “ventilation limited” state. Limiting the amount of air will keep the fire smaller longer while initial hose streams are placed into service.

I Isolate

Identifying and control flow paths is essential to limiting fire growth and improving the effectiveness of our stream application.  This process can be complicated with a large accumulation of exterior storage. Often a door will be discovered open and yet can not be shut due to the amount of clutter around it. There are not many options to control this airflow, these should be identified immediately.  Knowing what flow paths are uncontrolled can aid in directing the first water application.

On the good side of having excessive clutter around doorways the clutter itself can create a blockage to severely limited or “choke down” the flow of air.  Depending on the level of clutter and the height of the stack the flowpath can be smaller than a normal clear door or window.

C Cool

Now that you have located the hottest point inside the building and established or controlled the location of flow paths a officer can begin the cooling process from the safest location. In the case of hoarder fires this point is from the exterior of the building. Applying water should begin at the hottest point of the building or the closest point with access. Finding a doorway, window, or using a burned through part of a wall will allow a tight stream to be applied at a steep angle towards the ceiling. Performing this application from the exterior will allow firefighters to use the streams reach to limit exposure to any exterior clutter.

One essential component of this application is airflow must be controlled.  Restricting the available air by leaving any windows and doors in place will aid in the extinguishment.  As the fire begins to darken down firefighters can make the site of water application into a larger opening.  WARNING doing this can intensify the fire due to the increased air available. In this application of enlarging the opening there are No firefighters inside.  

Repeating this series of exterior application and opening enlarging can offer the firefighters a chance to inspect how severe the hoarding is, condition of the structural supports,  and begin to remove some of the debris to allow firefighters to enter the home through the opening.  When making these openings it is essential that we drop window sills only and ensure that the vertical supports remain intact.  

E Extinguish

Using the cooling and evaluation of the interior conditions and the structural integrity can lead to a sound decision of entry or exterior only operations. If the walls are bulging, roofs are sagging, of the clutter is about head height the exterior option will be a solid choice until further inspection can be performed or a decision to demolish the building has been made.

Complete extinguishment may be impossible due to the complications of the hoarding until debris is completely removed. At this point of the operation the goal will be to obtain initial knockdown, limit fire spread, and extinguish if at all possible.

R Rescue

The above portions of the slicers acronyms should  be used in order. The last two can be used at any time during the operation.  If there is a discovery of occupants trapped all attention needs focused on the life safety aspects and rescue becomes the number one priority. Even though the rescue becomes the number one priority we must keep in mind the size, locating, and the potential hazard of the growing fire.

S Salvage

At any point during the operation firefighters can move or remove unburned material. This action of opportunity can be a bit overwhelming in hoarding conditions. An example of great way to remove large amounts of debris is to close doors on storage buildings, mover cars that are full, or place master streams to protect.  Overhauling and salvage hoarding homes is a tiresome, lengthy, and backbreaking process.

Without a doubt todays fire service has the information to make better informed decision on the fireground. It is up to us on how we receive and implement this information. Using it in hoarding conditions will give you a better understanding of the challenges that lay ahead and a buffer of safety for your firefighters by giving them time to evaluate the risk and establish tactical priorities!  The next time you are faced with Heavy Content make sure you use the SLICERS approach to battling these challenging fires!


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