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The Fire Safety Dangers of Having Too Much 'Stuff' in the Workplace and in the Home

'Hoarding' in the workplace and in the home is a major fire hazard and creates especially hazardous conditions for firefighters and other emergency responders.
The term hoarding is generally described as obtaining and refusing to throw out a large number of items that would appear to have little or no value to others. In the home it is described as severe cluttering to the point a space is no longer able to function as a viable living space. Items usually hoarded in the workplace and in the home include such things as: newspapers, magazines, journals, personal papers and items, clothing, furniture, appliances, equipment, boxes and rubbish. Hoarding is different and much more than having simple clutter in your workplace or home. 
While the exact underlying causes of compulsive hoarding continue to be studied and the relationship between hoarding and fire safety is currently being documented by the National Fire Protection Association, anecdotal reports from the fire service clearly reveal a significant fire threat. In fact, a 2009 study found that hoarding fires are tougher for the fire service to fight and make rescue operations extremely difficult. And for hoarding fires in the home, they are far deadlier than other types of residential fires.
Specifically, the fire safety dangers to be aware of when having too much 'stuff' in the workplace and in the home include:
  • Increased risk of fire due to the accumulation of combustibles such as papers, clothing and rubbish.
  • Increased fire severity due to an abnormal amount of fuel that will overtax existing automatic sprinkler systems.
  • Blocked escape from fire due to the exits, hallways, windows and doors being obstructed by clutter.
  • Extreme risk to fire-emergency response personnel.
  • Risk of structural damage or building collapse due to the excessive fire-loading and weight of the items.
  • Risk of injury or death due to being trapped under falling items.
If you have questions on any of these fire safety dangers, please contact the Division of the Fire Marshal, Office of Research Services at 301-496-0487.