A 74-year-old man spent five days trapped inside his apartment in a collapsed seniors home after a devastating fire ripped through the Southeast D.C. building.
Workers searching the building found the injured senior citizen Monday morning inside his apartment in the Arthur Capper Senior Apartments in the Navy Yard neighborhood, Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
The man is believed to have been inside his apartment from when the fire broke out Wednesday afternoon to when a crew found him Monday morning.
"It appears, based on the report that I got from the building workers, that he was sitting in his apartment," Bowser said. "The workers helped him into a chair and out of the building."
The man, who officials did not identify, was rushed to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer was one of the people who found the man. He and others were going through the building unit by unit to try to determine if the apartments were safe to re-enter. As they used a crowbar to pry open an apartment door on the second floor, they heard a voice and a man came to the door. Stunned, Kilsheimer said he would help the man get out.
"I'm not going anyplace," Kilsheimer recalled the man saying.
Though the man had no electricity and was confined to his apartment because the door was jammed, he was in good spirits, Kilsheimer said.
"For somebody who's been in that situation for as long as this, he seemed incredibly in good shape, from my perspective," he said.
The man wanted to walk outside using a cane, but the workers made him sit in a kitchen chair and get carried out. He had a cellphone, but it wasn't clear if it had been working.
Bowser said Wednesday, in the hours after the blaze, that building management firm Edgewood Management called the tenants after the fire and each person was accounted for.
Council member Charles Allen says he was in the command center near the fire when management assured that all residents were accounted for and had been evacuated.
"It's completely unacceptable and inexcusable that there was someone in there for five days and we didn't know about it," Allen said.
The mayor said she was not aware of any family members looking for the man.
City officials said they didn't know yet why Edgewood Management apparently had considered him to be safe, or why rescuers didn't find the man during their response.
"They may have missed the apartment," D.C. fire chief Gregory Dean said, referring to fire and EMS crews.
Dean defended his crews.
"You have people, human people, just like the rest of us, trying to accomplish a very difficult job in trying circumstances," he said.
Roland Redfield, a neighbor of the man found in his apartment, said he could hardly believe what had happened.
"They said everybody has been taken care of," he said.
Crews searched the building inch by inch on Monday to make sure no one else was there.
Multiple residents of the apartments said they heard no alarms after a powerful fire broke out about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, injuring 10 people and sending a huge plume of black smoke into the air. Instead, residents were alerted by U.S. Marines and neighbors who banged on their doors.
Dean told News4 that he heard multiple reports that wall-mounted fire alarms did not work when pulled.
"No one heard any horns. That's the early notification. That's really what was missing on this building," he said.
Neighborhood advocate Bruce DarConte ran into the building in the 900 block of 5th Street SE to help his neighbors get out. He said he and others pulled wall-mounted fire alarms in the hallways, but nothing happened.
"As we saw the fire alarms, we were pulling them — nothing. So we just kept going. It didn't pay for us to stand there," he said.
The fire chief said Thursday that smoke detectors inside apartments are believed to have worked. On lower floors of the four-story building, smoke alarms and the sprinkler system did not activate because they were not exposed to smoke or flames, Dean said. It wasn't clear if alarms or sprinklers activated on upper floors.
The fire is believed to have started in the attic, fire officials said.
The building was inspected by the fire department last year, and the alarm system was checked three times in the past year, most recently in April, Dean said.
Resident Cherie Gibson said she didn't hear or see any emergency alerts.
"The alarm did not go off. Our sprinklers did not go off," she said.
A man who helped his elderly father get out of the building also said he got no alert.
"No sprinklers went off. No nothing went off," Louis Watts said.
Residents of all 161 units in the building were forced out of their homes, with no timeline in sight for when they will be able to retrieve their belongings or move back in.
Dozens of residents went to a shelter and then to hotels.
The community organization Near Southeast Community Partners is raising funds to help victims of the fire. The Capitol Hill Community Foundation also is fundraising. Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen sent locals information about that fund.