Firefighters, EMS personnel, policemen and all first responders live in a chaotic world of accidents, illness, disease and the worst of human nature. From a young child choking, to a mother scalded by hot oil, to an octogenarian suffering a stroke – first responders must be equipped to handle all emergencies. But how do they cope with a house filled with 77 cats and a foot deep layer of trash on the floor? Or the house with 33 poodles that has never seen the light of day? Ask any first responder to describe their idea of hell-on-earth, and you will most likely hear “Hoarder House”!
Emergency agencies in nearly every region of the country have training facilities to hone their life saving and rescue skills. Some agencies construct elaborate mazes and real-life props on which their responders train to meet the usual and customary emergencies of life on the streets. But how does a responder train for an encounter with a hoarder house? With an estimated 2% to 5% of the population and between 6 and 15 million households that can be labeled as hoarders, it isn’t a matter of “if”, but only “when”, a responder will come face-to-face with a hoarder. The Center for Simulation Studies at the Community College of Aurora is helping to overcome this hurdle with assistance from O.M.E.G.A.
How do you build a Hoarder House, you ask?
Well, first off you talk to Pony Anderson at the Community College of Aurora. She will arrange for several rooms to be built as if they were a two-bedroom apartment, complete with a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room and two bedrooms. However, that is the easy part. A hoarder house is complete only when it’s been furnished with “stuff”. We are not talking about just any “stuff”, however, but empty jars, craft projects that you started, but just never got around to completing, empty cereal boxes, dog food bags, cat food bags, books, magazines, newspapers, unwanted clothes, bedding – get the picture? After spending several weeks badgering friends, family and neighbors for the needed items and hoping nobody will think you are losing your mind – “You want my old WHAT?” – the “stuff” is delivered to Pony’s staging area where it must be sorted, reworked and props fabricated before being relocated into the apartment. Pony then will have them arranged for that “lived-in” look.
A mainstay of common hoarders is the countless stacks of books, magazines and newspapers accumulated over years. In order to cut down on weight, and make the stacks easier to move during restaging of exercises, these items must be fabricated into easily handled props. How is a five-foot tall stack of old newspapers made easier to move and retain that authentic look?
You will need to make these realistic stacks of newspapers weigh only a pound, but give the impression of them weighing ten pounds. To do this you need to spend hours folding the newsprint into accordion shaped strips about an inch and a half wide. After you have about a jillion of them folded and set aside, apply three beads of caulk to the side of a small or medium cardboard box then gently lay the strips into the caulk edge. To retain a realistic look, the strips can’t be too spread out or too close.
Now take the magazines and cut the spines off, leaving a two-inch wide strip, stack in empty stationary boxes and tie with twine. Behold, you have a stack of magazines that weigh much less than the real McCoy. Next, take your books and rip the pages out; glue a piece of Styrofoam between the covers and presto your book weighs a fraction of the original making it easier to stage and move.
For the empty pet food bags, stuff them with discarded plastic bags and other filler material that you have been gathering. Seal the ends with clear tape and stack the bags up. They look like they weigh a ton but they only weigh a few pounds.
The students who are taking EMT and fire training classes at the college need to get some firsthand experience as to what it is like when they have to respond to an incident at a “Hoarder’s” home. They need to get the feel of the close quarters, piles and piles of junk, trash, dirty clothes, dirty dishes not to mention the smells and the critters running around. Get the picture?