Fire chief cites ‘hoarding conditions’ as factor in unsuccessful rescue attempt

📷 Helen Boyle file photo for The Citizen Chronicle

SOUTHBRIDGE — A local woman was killed on Thursday morning as firefighters were unable to rescue her from a three-alarm fire, due in part to “hoarding conditions” in the home.

The fire at 217 Dennison Lane broke out around 7 a.m., and mutual aid from several surrounding communities was quickly brought in as the response grew to three alarms. The woman, whose name was not released by officials, is believed to have been the lone occupant of the home. The victim’s identity will be released by the Office of Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr., after formal identification by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and notification of family members.

“On behalf of the Town of Southbridge, I would like to express our condolences to the family and friends of the victim,” said Southbridge Fire Chief Paul Normandin in a press release issued by the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.

Normandin applauded the efforts of first responders, and said efforts to rescue the victim were hampered by possessions throughout the home.

“I am proud of the Southbridge firefighters who valiantly attempted to save this woman’s life, and thankful for the neighboring departments that came to our aid during this event,” Normandin said. “Unfortunately, the rescue efforts were unsuccessful, in part due to hoarding conditions found inside the home.”

According to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, “Excessive clutter hindered the firefighting efforts” as crews “had difficulty entering the home and locating the victim due to densely concentrated belongings in rooms and hallways.”

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey advised such situations make the job difficult, and advocated for those struggling with hoarding to seek assistance.

“If excessive accumulation of possessions is preventing you from using the rooms or hallways in your home as they are intended, please ask for help,” said Ostroskey. “This is a mental health issue as well as a fire safety issue, and there are non-judgemental resources available to help with it. We want every resident to live in a home that is free of unnecessary clutter and has two clear paths out.”

Officials pointed to statewide resources on hoarding and cluttering being available online at www.masshousing.com/hoarding, or by calling 800-243-4636 (800-AGE-INFO).

According to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, the fire was jointly investigated by members of the Southbridge Fire and Police Departments, Massachusetts State Police, State Fire Marshal, and the Office of the Worcester County District Attorney. Assistance was received from the Department of Fire Service Code Compliance Unit and the State Police Crime Scene Services.

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