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Arthur Capper Senior Public Housing resident found alive five days after fire

September 24, 2018

Officials say inspection crews found a 74-year old man trapped in his second-story apartment in Arthur Capper Senior Public Housing complex Monday morning, five days after the building burned down.

“We did not know he was in the building,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser admitted in a press conference later that day. “All of us certainly looked at the building managers to tell us who lived in the building and if they were accounted for.”

Structural engineers hired by the building’s owner to inspect damage heard the man shout and forced his door open, a crew member said during the press conference. They carried him outside in a chair, and he was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The senior home’s roof burned down after a raging fire last Wednesday and neighbors rushed in to evacuate the residents, many of whom were in wheelchairs.

Neighbor Bruce DarConte and his wife were among the first to spot the smoke and ran in without thinking. “It was terrifying,” Mr. DarConte told The Times Monday evening. “I lost track of my wife and I thought the building was going to collapse on top of us.”

The two ran through the second floor where the man was discovered Monday, and Mr. DarConte said they knocked on every door because the pull boxes and sprinklers weren’t working and many residents thought the fire wasn’t real “until the hallway rapidly started filling up with thick smoke.”

Afterward, he said, he and his wife spoke to several Capper office workers who were unable to find a list of residents to verify the evacuees. Building management later gave the all-clear to rescue crews that all tenants were safe.

D.C. Department of Human Services director Laura Zelinger said during Monday’s press conference that Capper’s management company reported the man was “accounted for” even though “they had not laid eyes on him personally.”

A spokesperson for D.C. Fire and Emergency Services (DCFEMS) says the department plans to “conduct a post-incident review of the fire” but said they could not comment further, at the request of the mayor.

The city is now planning on re-searching all 161 formerly occupied units of the building with D.C. Fire and EMS and canine units. “We already know one case where it didn’t match up with what they said,” the mayor said.

“Clearly this has prompted all DC government agencies to re-verify with the building owner and building management all contacts with tenants,” she added.

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