Firefighters use chainsaw to reach hoarder

2013-01-18 08:07

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Ottawa - Firefighters used a chainsaw to cut through clutter stacked floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall in a Vancouver area house in order to reach a hoarder pinned underneath his stash, officials said on Thursday.

Police had been called earlier this week after the 76-year-old man who lives alone had not been seen or heard from in a few days. Eleven firefighters and an ambulance also responded.

They found him on Monday severely dehydrated with an injury to his leg caused by blood circulation being cut off to the limb for three days, as he lay trapped beneath a pile of his junk treasures.

The house itself had no electricity or heat.

"It was a mess," Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal David Reid said. "We couldn't actually get into the house, there was so much stuff."

Reid said the man had left narrow pathways through boxes of electrical equipment, computers, various machinery, knickknacks, "anything imaginable", allowing him to move from room to room. He became trapped when a wall of boxes collapsed on top of him.

Not unusual

"The fire department had to use a chainsaw to reach him," Reid said.

Astonishingly, the case is not unusual in Vancouver, which has created the Hoarding Action Response Team (Hart) to deal with the growing problem.

"Compulsive hoarding is becoming a significant problem in many large cities in North America and they're struggling to deal with it," said Hart chief Will Johnston.

Vancouver received 96 calls about problem hoarders in 2011 before setting up the taskforce last year. Hart is currently working on 160 cases after having resolved 70 to date.

"Hoarding is a lot more common than you would think," said Reid. "Some people hoard to a minor degree, we call it clutter. Some save unique items, others save virtually everything."

"This case was an example of extreme hoarding with every room on two floors packed floor to ceiling," he said. "It was like climbing through a garbage dump."

Mental disorder

Dealing with hoarders typically puts them in contact with all sorts of officials: city, police, fire, ambulance, social services and more, as it often contravenes fire and building codes as well as environmental and health regulations.

Moreover it is seen as a mental disorder.

Most start collecting at a young age but do not seek treatment until their 50s. They typically collect items for their sentimental, instrumental or intrinsic value.

Dealing with hoarding can be tricky. "Cleaning up clutter, for some of them, is like asking to take away their children, they become extremely distressed," Reid said.

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