Deadly fire in cluttered home draws attention to dangers of hoarding

Blog Post created by audreycooney Employee on Jan 25, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe


A man died in a house fire on Boston’s South Shore after fire fighters could not access his extremely cluttered home due to hoarding.


Sean Gorman, 42, died Tuesday night after fire consumed his Scituate, Mass. home. The home, which was already enveloped by flames by the time fire services arrived, was so cluttered that fire fighters could not immediately enter it, according to officials. Ultimately, they pulled Gorman through a window of the single-story structure. He was pronounced dead two hours later.


The victim lived with his mother, who was not at home at the time of the fire. The residence had already come to the attention off town officials over concerns about hoarding, officials said.


The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers hoarding and fire safety resources that explain the dangers posed by hoarding to both residents and responders, and tips for talking to someone who may be hoarding.  Compulsive hoarding, a psychological condition that occurs when those affected accumulate or are unable to discard excessive belongings, poses a real threat to fire safety. It increases the risk that fires will ignite and makes it easier for them to spread. It also hinders egress from a structure and precludes fire fighters from entering a building easily.


A 2012 article in NFPA Journal® looks at a Toronto public housing complex fire that began in a man’s extremely cluttered apartment and spread to the rest of the building, and dives into the larger issue of compulsive hoarding.


A growing awareness of compulsive hoarding means additional tasks for fire services including making plans for responding to fires in homes occupied by hoarders and coordinating with social agencies to address the problem’s root causes. Compulsive hoarders can be reluctant to accept help, and the problem is not eliminated by a one-time cleanup.


Resolving a hoarding issue can be challenging and complex but it is an important, proactive  process so that those that live in  these homes, their neighbors and first responders can avoid a tragic outcome like the one in Scituate.