I-Team: Keeping Pawtucket seniors and disabled safe

A fire is reported on the sixth floor of Fogarty Manor in Pawtucket, a high-rise apartment building that houses about 300 seniors and people with disabilities.

The fire forced everyone to evacuate, and disabled the building's electrical system.

However, it was part of a drill Friday designed to make sure people living in the building are safe.

"Hopefully at the end of the day, our seniors will have a better idea of, if they had to evacuate their homes, what would be happening," said Norman Menard, director of emergency management.

Over the past few months, people at several other Pawtucket apartment complexes experienced the real thing.

In August, an electrical fire at Slater House forced more than 100 seniors and people with disabilities to evacuate.

In February, a 62-year-old man was badly burned during a fire at Burns Manor.

In March, 57-year-old Gail DeCarlo died during a fire inside her apartment at Northern Plaza.

Rhode Island law requires apartments that house elderly or disabled residents to be inspected by local fire departments every year.

A recent NBC 10 I-Team investigation uncovered that there weren't any records of city fire inspections to a number of buildings.

"These inspections had never been done, meaning formal inspections have not been completed by the city of Pawtucket," said city Director of Administration Antonio Pires.

In response to the investigation, the city said all 14 of Pawtucket's apartment buildings for seniors and people with disabilities will be inspected this year.

Friday's drill was planned for months, but it highlights the special challenges firefighters face inside the city's elderly high rises.

"The fire department comes in here as if everybody in the building was disabled. It is an elderly place," said James Ruthowski of the Pawtucket Housing Authority.

Residents volunteered to help during the drill, playing the part of seniors who needed to be evacuated. Organizers said it was a chance to learn, and to improve.

"There are times that you don't find out until a real emergency that we're not doing something right. This was the time today to try stuff out, and to find out that there might be little glitches," Ruthowski said.