At Washington, D.C.’s Arthur Capper Senior Apartments last week, a fire occurred that left more than 100 residents displaced. Parts of the building threatened to collapse. But at least all apartments were evacuated on time, District officials announced, with all residents accounted for.
However, 5 days later, a resident was found trapped in the building – alive.
Elderly Man Rescued – by Accident – from Fire-Damaged Apartment
The blaze, which broke out on Wednesday afternoon, burned into the following day. It destroyed much of the 4-story senior living complex’s upper floors as firefighters helped residents down on ladders.
But 1 resident wasn’t freed until the following Monday, when building inspectors chanced upon him while picking through the wreckage to check the building was safe for fire investigators. As the crew passed the 74-year-old man’s second-floor apartment, the man heard them and called out. The crew found his door swollen shut.
“I had to use crowbars and construction workers to get into his door,” Allyn Kilsheimer, the structural engineer who found the man. “There was no way for him, in my opinion, to get out."
The man had no idea who was trying to break into his home. His phone had died and the building’s electricity was switched off Saturday night. Yet in a phone interview with the Washington Post from George Washington Hospital, where the man was taken for minor injuries, he joked that he never became alarmed.
“I’m still hungry,” he said with a laugh. But then he added: “I thought they forgot about me. I didn’t know about no fire.”
‘We Weren’t Missing Anybody’
In a news conference shortly after the rescue, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Fire Chief Gregory Dean said they hadn’t instructed firefighters to do more than a “quick walk-through” of the building because its roof, on the verge of collapse, was too much of a risk.
“The building was considered unstable, and we weren’t missing anybody,” Dean said.
Officials instead blamed the building’s management company, Edgewood Management. They said the company’s list of residents, which was a crucial factor in the decision to suspend a more thorough search, didn’t accurately clear the safety of all residents. Initially, Edgewood had confirmed everyone on the list was accounted for, said Laura Zeilinger, director of D.C.’s Human Services Department. But on Monday:
“They acknowledged that they had not laid eyes on [the man] personally, although they had the other people who they checked off on their list,” she said.
And It Gets Worse…
Edgewood Management’s reasons for such an egregious omission are still unclear. The company didn’t respond to further requests for comment.
“Right now, there are more questions than answers,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who chairs the public safety committee. “They told us every person was accounted for, but for whatever reason, they didn’t count everybody.”
Allen did, however, note residents’ complaints that the building’s fire alarms and sprinklers didn’t function properly. Management hadn’t only forgotten about a resident. They had overlooked an elementary fire safety precaution.
What sort of company that manages a senior living complex would leave its elderly residents so unprotected, you might ask? Unfortunately, Edgewood wouldn’t be the first. Last year, we saw a frighteningly similar event in a Florida nursing home that lost power in Hurricane Irma. Rather than fix the air conditioning, management left frail residents to swelter in 90-degree heat. A number of them were treated for dehydration and heat stress, but 8 residents died.
Both cases show an unfathomable pattern of neglect. Sadly, so do many others. Across the U.S., 30 percent of nursing homes have been cited for neglecting or abusing their residents. Inadequate staffing leaves an estimated 33 percent of patients gravely malnourished, and countless others at risk of physical, emotional, financial, and sexual harm. The rate of nursing home abuse may be higher than we think, because like Arthur Capper Senior Apartments, many for-profit nursing homes overlook and underreport concerns.
In this case, all other residents were rescued safely. Only 4 were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. But do we know for sure they will return to a safe home? Considering the smoke detectors and sprinklers failed to fully operate, Allen said, “I remain stunned that we didn’t have loss of life.”