London fire prevention officer a world leader in reducing hoarding dangers

London Fire Insp. James Hind is leading the way in mitigating the dangers associated with hoarding.

Hind started the Hoarders Task Force in 2010 and his work helping people with hoarding tendencies is putting London on the map.

Hind has speaking engagements across the province and his work is now gaining international interest.

“We have a significant amount of hoarders in this city. If you base it on our population we could have anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 hoarders within London,” Hind says.

He says there are many reasons people become hoarders. Some people are not able to process grief or have trauma.

“Everybody who is a hoarder has their own individual reasons why they became one,” Hind says.

He says hoarders are four times more likely to have a fire in their homes because of extension cords running under things and if electricity is being overused.

He also says smoking and candles can be an issue but mostly it’s because of the incorrect use of appliances.

“When we go into these homes, one thing you can’t capture on TV…is just how overwhelming it is,” Hind says. “There’s so much stuff to look at, and often it smells bad.”

Hind says important partnerships have been formed in London to better serve individuals who are suffering from hoarding.

He says there are concerns with the lack of government funding, but says working with mental health officials, police, ambulance and other stakeholders is important in addressing the issue.

“You know we do a great job now where we weren’t really going a great job collaboratively before,” Hind says.

After seeing and reading about Hind’s work online, an inspector from the Southwest Finland Emergency Service reached out to him.

Fire Insp. Arita Jokinen says the problem in Finland is increasing all the time, and she says there weren’t many educational resources on hoarding there.

We have lots of similarities, but also a lot to learn,” Jokinen says.

Jokinen, along with Finland Emergency Service Lead Fire Insp. Kari Kummunsalo made the trip to London this week to meet with Hind and other key stakeholders.

This week they’ve gone into homes in London and she says it’s fairly comparable to what they see in Finland.

She says the worst apartments she sees are where there are no pathways to even get inside a unit and one apartment in particular stands out that had many rats and mice.

She says the connectivity and collaboration in London is definitely something she wants to take back to Finland.

“What he did different is that he had better measures how much you can have in the house. We don’t give people measures on how much you can have so that’s also something we can use,” Jokinen says.

Hind says compulsive hoarding may result in numerous issues such as mold accumulation, structural building damage, tripping hazards, and an unsafe fire load.

A fire started in a home with a large volume of belongs would make it difficult to extinguish and cause a risk to emergency responders.

Kummunsalo says he deals with hoarding on a daily basis. “Maybe we don’t see so much mold because it’s underneath all the carpets and all the fluids and everything, but maybe the worst things that I have seen are always the ones with the kids involved,” Kummunsalo says.

“I really like the cooperation between all authorities and stake holders here. We have cooperation, but it’s nothing like you have here,” Kummansalo says.

Hind hopes to head to Finland in the fall and has already been asked to speak at the European Union hoarding conference in 2020.