‘Not a small situation’: Hoarding in Smiths Falls causes concern for fire department


When the accumulation of personal belongings becomes a health and safety risk, there is help to get out from under the overwhelming clutter.

Smiths Falls Fire Chief Rick Chesebrough spoke about the hoarding situation in Smiths Falls at a recent council meeting when he brought his 2023 report to council in February, saying the fire department members had to help on a number of calls in town last year.

“One of the major items that the Fire Prevention Division has been faced with this year is a number of calls for hoarding situations,” he said.

“I know this council is well aware of the number of calls that we have received regarding homelessness and problems with individuals that have either a mental or cognitive or physical disability.

“This has resulted in the fire department being involved with a lot … we had a situation that resulted in one person being transported to hospital due to some contents contained within the building,” the chief continued.

Typically, this is not a fire department issue, the chief noted. “The fire department has been brought in because it’s created a life safety issue.”

He said they’ve taken part in a number of group discussions to “hopefully, bring this situation down to a manageable size so it’s a one-off and not the norm.”

The report notes that they have engaged with property owners and a mental health official to help bring residences within the town into compliance with property standards bylaws and the Ontario Fire Code, and ensure properties are safe places for the occupants to live.

“Hoarding can create hazardous conditions for our firefighters. Exits may be blocked and fire loads may be excessive due to the amount of combustible material. The collaborative working relationship between enforcement agents and mental health professionals is the perfect combination of service to keep tasks a priority and keep the support in place to make progress possible.”

The chief said the fire department continues to work alongside mental health officials.

“Issues encountered are building owners wanting to evict the tenant and the lack of monetary assistance to the tenants for clean-up,” he said. “It must be noted that no one organization can or should be responsible for responding and dealing with hoarding situations as they can be too complex and costly. Hoarding requires the perfect marriage of enforcement mandates and support service skills.”

Coun. Dawn Quinn, who chaired the Feb. 26 meeting, said although “a small mention” of hoarding was made by the chief, “it’s not a small situation.

“It’s very large,” she said, and “how do I know that? I sit on the hoarding coalition … people have no idea how much is right here, in the Town of Smiths Falls, so there needs to be a lot of work put into that.”

Lanark County Mental Health does not provide specific supports for hoarding behaviour. There is currently no tracking information or data to share, according to Karen Kelly, marketing and communications specialist with the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital, where media inquiries about hoarding in Lanark County were redirected over the past several weeks.

“At this time, LCMH does not have any formal resources in place to support hoarding,” Kelly noted. “The organization did receive some funding a number of years ago specific for hoarding however that was a short-term grant.”

Kelly said that individuals who may be engaging in hoarding behaviour may be seeking other services. 

“Referrals for LCMH services or other mental health and addictions programs and services can be submitted through AccessMHA,” she said. “The AccessMHA team will determine the closest and best organization to assist and support the individual.”



A hoarding situation typically involves several key characteristics:

  • Excessive Acquisition: Individuals in hoarding situations often acquire and accumulate a large number of items, even if they are not needed or have no apparent value. This can include objects such as newspapers, magazines, clothing, household supplies, and even trash.
  • Difficulty Discarding: People who hoard have significant difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value or usefulness. They may experience intense distress or anxiety at the thought of getting rid of items and may believe that they will need them in the future.
  • Cluttered Living Spaces: Hoarding often leads to cluttered and disorganized living spaces, such as homes, apartments, or rooms, making it difficult to navigate or use the space for its intended purpose. Piles of items may cover surfaces, block pathways, or accumulate to the point where rooms become inaccessible.
  • Functional Impairment: Hoarding can result in functional impairment, affecting various aspects of daily life such as personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning, and socializing. In severe cases, hoarding can lead to unsanitary living conditions, fire hazards, and safety risks.
  • Distress or Impairment: Hoarding typically causes significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Individuals may feel overwhelmed, ashamed, or embarrassed by their hoarding behaviour, and it can strain relationships with family members, friends, or landlords.
  • Insight and Awareness: Some individuals with hoarding disorder may lack insight into the severity of their condition and may not recognize the negative impact it has on their lives. Others may be aware of the problem but feel unable to control their hoarding behaviour.

These characteristics collectively define a hoarding situation, and individuals experiencing them may benefit from intervention and support from mental health professionals.

Information on Lanark County Mental Health services and programs can be found at:  www.lcmh.

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