On Monday, there was a terrible three-alarm fire in a Queens apartment that seriously injured its tenant, Vycheslav Nekrasov. Nekrasov's apartment was so full of odds and ends (a super called it "a warehouse of junk") that firefighters weren't able to immediately open the door, so they cut a hole from the upstairs apartment floor to get in. Nekrasov's neighbors had complained about the smell coming from the apartment ("like a dead body") repeatedly and apparently the Health Department was supposed to visit today! Instead, a couple residents and firefithers were injured and the apartment is burned out, with debris falling into another neighboring apartment whose wall was cut down to get to the fire.
So, today, the NY Times looks at what the Fire Department calls these crap-filled apartments. They are called "Collyer Mansions" after the infamous Collyer brothers and their Fifth Avenue home.
Thomas Von Essen, a former New York City fire commissioner, said that the term communicated crucial information to new firefighters. "What's dangerous is that all this stuff could fall down," he said. "Or it could weaken the floors, and when you put water on it you could have a collapse. You could fall into it and then you have a hard time getting out. You could get caught behind it; your mask could get tangled. I could guarantee you that people have gotten hurt in those kinds of situations."
On the West Coast, they apparently call those situations "Habitrail houses" and an EMT tells the Times he sees lots of Collyer Mansions while on the job.
As for the Collyer brothers, they lived at the turn of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia, they collected tons of junk in their brownstone, and in 1947, the police found brother Homer dead and then found brother Langley's body weeks later, trapped under debris. Langley had taken care of Homer, so when Langley died, Homer starved to death. Franz Lidz wrote a book about them, Ghostly Men, and unsurprisingly, it's bundled with Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding on Amazon.