Monday, February 18, 2013

Northern Virginia Daily Article on Hoarding... My worst fear for my mother


^ Posted 1 day ago

A fatal fire last week in Warren County prompts action to make residents aware of hoarding's dangers

By Joe Beck
Warren County fire officials are planning an education initiative about the risks of hoarding in the aftermath of a fire in which a 72-year-old woman died as firefighters struggled to locate her amid a vast amount of stored items in her large home.
Firefighters arrived at the home of Pauline A. Hockett, 72, of 220 Locust Dale Road, Front Royal, at about midnight Thursday and found their efforts to rescue her slowed by a considerable amount of clutter, some of it reaching as high as 6 feet.
"Throughout the first floor of the home, these guys were actually walking or climbing over material in the home trying to locate the victim without knowing a definite area where the victim was at the time of the 911 call," Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico said.
Maiatico estimated it took about 25 minutes to find Hockett in the basement where she had died from smoke inhalation and thermal inhalation.
He said it was impossible to know whether she could have been saved had the fire crew reached her sooner, but there was no doubt that "conditions in the home greatly hampered rescue efforts."
"They were tripping and falling over these items, they were running into roadblocks every couple of feet," Maiatico said of fire crew members.
Hockett's death was the first by fire in Warren County in five years. Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie has ordered his department to begin contacting several agencies in the county that would work with the Fire and Rescue Services on educating people about fire risks associated with hoarding.
Maiatico said Mabie is committed "to preventing the loss of life in the community and making sure this type of thing doesn't happen again."
Hoarding's dangers extend to emergency calls for medical attention when every second counts for paramedics trying to save a patient's life, Maiatico said.
"They cannot get in, and they have to remove the patient from the environment before they can start the treatment process," Maiatico said, adding that hoarding can also imperil first responders.
"We don't want to commit people to areas where we don't know what conditions they will find," he said.
Hockett's sons, Glenn, 40, and Jeff, 46, will be joining the education effort.
"I told them I'd be happy to be of assistance in any way we could," Jeff Hockett said of Fire and Rescue Services. He added that the family is asking that people donate money to the department's smoke detector program in lieu of flowers.
Maiatico said the smoke detectors functioned properly during the fire at the Hockett home. He elaborated on the source of the fire, which began with improper disposal of smoking material.
"Basically, this fire stemmed from cigarettes being placed in a trash receptacle, dumping ash trays into a trash can" he said. "The Department of Fire and Rescue Services wants to remind everybody to fill ash trays with water, then dump them into a receptacle to make sure all smoking embers and cigarettes themselves are extinguished."
Maiatico said all cigarettes are required to be fire safe, which means they carry an additive that allows them to extinguish themselves if no one draws air through them.
"Even though that is a safety measure, it's not 100 percent," Maiatico said. "So we still say before you discard a cigarette, soak it with water."
Maiatico said the department's response to hoarding problems will focus on education and obtaining mental health support when hoarders are posing risks to themselves and others. No new enforcement actions or laws are planned, he said.
"We want to be respectful and focus on safety issues, not judge people on how they live and why they do the things they do," Maiatico said.
He said he was especially pleased that the Hockett family is prepared to participate in the education campaign.
"The family is taking the position that if the story of Pauline can save someone else's life, then potentially some good can come out of something like this," Maiatico said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or


Mental health professionals treating hoarding as mental disorder

^ Posted 1 day ago
By Joe Beck
Mental health professionals are about to formally recognize hoarding as a distinct mental disorder in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be published this spring.
Jeff Szymanski, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation, said Tuesday the impending change is based on years of research and the experiences of therapists who have been treating patients for the affliction. The DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is widely considered the most authoritative book for understanding mental disorders and potential treatments.
Szymanski estimated five to seven million people in the United States are hoarders, and more of them are coming to the attention of the rest of the public.
"Fire marshals are a great example because people who hoard in many instances hoard until their homes become fire hazards," Szymanski said.
Neighbors complain to authorities and landlords try to evict hoarders because they see a safety hazard to their property, Szymanski said. Complaints and pressure from outsiders are often the only way to persuade hoarders to get help, he added.
"Those who hoard typically don't seek treatment on their own," Szymanski said.
People should not confuse hoarders with pack rats and collectors whose tendency toward untidiness is a more manageable and less troubling personal trait, Szymanski said.
"Collectors have a lot of stuff, but collectors have their stuff organized," he said, adding, "pack rats may have cluttered households, but they use their possessions the way they were intended."
A pack rat may have a cluttered kitchen counter, but it's still recognizable as a counter and used for that purpose. But a hoarder may end up sleeping on a couch because the bed is already occupied by too many objects, Szymanski said.
"It's just the amount of clutter they have," he said. "It's impairing their functioning. It's interfering with their ability to use space around their home like they would like to do."
Szymanski said researchers and hoarding therapists are spearheading about 75 task forces around the country aimed at educating the public about hoarding. The task forces and more information about hoarding are listed at the web site
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or


  1. So sad. Those firefighters took a huge risk trying to find her.

  2. Yes they did Karin. I have the utmost respect for those who put themselves in harm's way to help others.

    This honestly, is my largest fear for my mother, and for anyone that would try to rescue her.