We all have a few prized possessions at home. These are the items you wouldn't get rid of, even if someone paid you. Imagine if you felt that way about everything in your life. Experts say that is the reality for thousands of hoarders in Maryland.
The impact can spread far beyond one home or apartment.
"We're continually regularly seeing this now. Two, three, four times a month where we're having a fire situation involving hoarding," State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci said.
According to Geraci, in the past few months, four people have died in fires made worse by hoarding. That is exactly what the 'Public Risk Reduction Initiative' is meant to prevent, not only for residents but for first responders.
"It's very tragic. I've been to several line of duty deaths and I really don't like going to those," Geraci said.
Geraci estimates there are more than 20,000 cases of hoarding throughout the state.
If there were a fire in any of those homes, that translates to an increased fire load, normal escape routes are blocked and the job of a firefighters becomes even more difficult.
Geraci says the first step is for firefighters to be able to identify those locations.
"Even just to identify the locations, that there is a severe hazard within the structure. Whether its a large amount of combustible materials, whether its a structural integrity problem because of the amount of material and the weight of the material. To identify that in their computer system so when they go in the scene of a call, at least they're aware of those hazards and can mitigate those by changing their strategy and tactics on how they're going to attack the fire," Geraci told ABC2.
He says he also wants to go beyond that and help people struggling with this disorder in a meaningful way. The fire marshal's office is looking to do that by involving other agencies like law enforcement, animal control and mental health professionals.
Gregory Chasson, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Towson University , said the families are likely the gateway in be able to identify hoarders, since hoarders themselves often do not recognize the severity of their problem.
"There might be an awareness there but the urge to get things or not to get rid of things is so strong that it really trumps everything else ... Family members often are the ones that call me and say 'help, help!'"
Chasson says there is no cure for hoarding, but there is hope.
"Most of the time you tend to see a very nice reduction to the point where people maybe would be considered slightly cluttered, maybe a little bit more of a pack rat, more so than being in an extremely dangerous situation," Chasson said.
Chasson has organized a free family training program designed to teach people how to interact with loved ones who hoard.
If you are interested in getting involved in the trial, you can contact Chasson at 410-704-3261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.