Cluttered homes prove hazardous in emergency situations

HALES CORNER (WITI) -- Hales Corners firefighters say they encountered a home full of clutter when battling a house fire Thursday evening, March 20th. It's a situation they say is becoming more and more common.

Items, and what some may call junk, bordered narrow pathways throughout the home, feeding the fire and making it even more dangerous to firefighters.

Many firefighters around the area say even homes in well-to-do neighborhoods, which look fine from the outside, can be hazardous behind closed doors.

"You're surprised once you get inside how narrow a hallway, that normally is three feet wide, is down to, in some cases, nine or 10 inches," said Dan Tyk with North Shore Fire Department.

Tyk says he's been on emergency calls where homeowners are difficult to find, and help, because the homes are so full of debris. Police point to the victim of a recent Glendale homicide, who was hard to locate inside his home.

Authorities warn that houses filled with clutter can cause a real hazard for responders.

"We have a difficult time making sure all the hot spots are out because you have that increased fire load, and you may have smoldering debris or papers on the bottom of a pile, and we literally have to take that pile out to truly extinguish the fire," explained Tyk.

Fire departments often get the health department involved to work with homeowners to get their homes cleared out. Relatives should also be aware that a house full of junk could be a house full of danger.

"That could be life or death on whether we're able to get to someone in a timely fashion and rescue their family member," said Tyk.

Tyk also notes that it's difficult for many people, especially the elderly, to part with their possessions and suggests a storage unit for those who just can't say goodbye to their items.