Hoarder Homes: Window Sill Removal: June

Hoarder Homes: Window Sill Removal

Dealing with the massive amounts of stuff found inside a structure with hoarding conditions can make entering very challenging. The risk of crawling through the labyrinth of belongings can outweigh the rewards. Using an outside-in tactic is an example of a more defensive approach to these conditions. Beginning the fire suppression outside will allow the time for additional resources to arrive, limiting the fire's growth, and reducing the risk that firefighters will be exposed to.

There are many variables to consider during the outside in attack. This article will focus on one tactic: Window sill removal.  Using this approach to gain access directly into affected rooms has been used with success around the world.

Why Use It

Many hoarding homes can be filled until the primary routes of entry and exits are no longer usable. In some cases windows, garage doors, or upper levels may be used as the primary means of entrance. Understanding these variables firefighters may be called upon to make an entry, if none are available. Utilizing our knowledge of building construction and power saws entry points can be made quickly for search or fire attack.  

During this operation firefighters should factor in the factors of introducing air into the environment and the potential flowpath it will create. If an opening were to be made opposite the room of origin it is possible to draw the fire into the space they would be operating in. The biggest advantage of utilizing a window sill removal is the ability to assess structural stability of the exposed joist’s. Once the cut has been made firefighters can better evaluate for bulging, bowing, and other signs of danger.

Where To Use It

Selecting the appropriate area to open up is vital and depends on the intent of the task (Photo 1). Searching for life vs fire attack can direct a firefighter to different locations to begin. Making this determination comes from accurate bystander interviews, thermal imaging scans of the exterior, and locating the room of origin. If the sill is being removed for fire attack it should be completed after knock down and in the hottest room. (the fire's seat). After knockdown a further advance can be carried out or determination to stay out can be made.  Attacking the seat of the fire will aid in the operation by reducing the biggest problem, the fire itself.

If a rescue is the goal determining the most likely place to enter can become difficult.  Often firefighters search bedrooms first, if the fire happens during the night.  In hoarding conditions it is common to find bedrooms are no longer usable. The only way of knowing the areas of likely victims is from an accurate pre-fire plan, accurate descriptions from bystanders, and/or direct knowledge of the victim's location. Combine these factors with an accurate thermal imaging scan and a good estimate of victim location can be made.

Again, caution should be taken when opening these spaces and creating the potential for flashover, backdraft, and flow path creation.  

How To Do It

Making the sill passable comes in sequential order after the determination of location has been made.  

Step 1: Window Removal

Taking the glass should begin high in the window to allow hot gasses to escape. Firefighters should not stand in front of the window when breaking it to reduce chances of injury from fire. (flashover, etc.)  The sill should be completely cleared of glass, curtains, and other obstructions (Photo 2). If possible the metal support layer should be removed. (as seen in the video)

Step 2: Cut the Sill

Once the glass has been removed take the saw and begin to cut. If using a chain saw be sure to only use enough blade to clear the window. Blades that go beyond that have the chance of being caught in the stacks (Photo 3).  On one side, cut high to low stopping at the floor decking level. Moving to the opposite side cut in the same manner and to the same depth.  Following the cuts use a hook or other handtool to remove the materials. After completion use a hook to pull the debris out.

Step 3: Evaluate the Conditions

Once the sill is removed and stacks of hoarding material have been reduced firefighters can look at structural conditions (Photo 4). Evaluating ceilings, walls, floors, fire conditions, and what type of material is being collected is essential before moving forward.


Adding a window sill removal technique is a great resource in hoarding and other applications. Making the window into a door can be a challenging situation if massive amounts of stuff are present.  Watching the video and reviewing the challenges faced will further the understanding of this technique.  Review that material and apply it to your department. Use it to choose saw type, blade type, and give another challenge to the next saw drill.

KTF 2015 Burn 7-3 Window Sill Removal from ryan pennington on Vimeo.


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