Hoarding disorder was classified as an illness in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), which defines it as
‘the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.’
It goes on to state that:
‘These behaviors can often be quite severe and even threatening. Beyond the mental impact of the disorder, the accumulation of clutter can create a public health issue by completely filling people’s homes and creating fall and fire hazards.’
Last month, Atlantic magazine drew attention to the fire risks of hoarding in a feature article which opens with the death of a US firefighter trapped by piles of accumulated material in a residential home. The article points out that the risk is not only to firefighters:
“Among the condition’s many devastating mental and physical consequences is that it can the sufferer more likely to die in a fire. Clutter can block exits and trip residents when they try to escape. Boxes and papers act like kindling, making a fire rage more intensely.”
It is an issue that fire organisations around the world are trying to address. Some, such as the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne, the UK London Fire Brigade, and the US National Fire Protection Association provide guide sheets on hoarding, aimed at helping families to understand the issues and to find ways of helping. The Chief Fire Officers Association (UK) provided this list of myth-busters around hoarding during their Hoarding Awareness week in 2014.
Some fire personnel in the US are joining ‘hoarding task forces’ which are multi-agency groups consisting of health, social, and emergency service representatives that work together to address the emotional, health, and safety issues associated with hoarding.