A total of 241 people were displaced from Patten Towers when fire struck May 28. Repairs are needed on the building before they can return. That is likely to take about seven weeks, officials have said. In the meantime, most of those displaced are being put up in area hotels.
Chattanooga Housing Authority owns four high-rise buildings for senior and disabled residents. They are:
Dogwood Manor // 959 Gateway Ave. // 136 residents
Gateway Towers // 1100 Gateway Ave. // 132 residents
Boynton Terrace // 955 Boynton Drive // 250 residents
Mary Walker Towers // 2501 Market St. // 153 residents
Residents from the largest high-rise in Chattanooga public housing say it's been at least a decade since they've had a fire drill and they worry that the tragedy that befell Patten Towers could happen to them.
"It's going to be a panic [if there's a fire here]," said Boynton Towers resident Brenda Clark. "People are going to worry about which way to go and how to get there."
In all, nearly 700 low-income elderly and/or disabled live in Boynton Towers and the other three Westside and Alton Park high-rises owned by the Chattanooga Housing Authority. Boynton has three apartment buildings seven and eight stories high.
Worry has been rising there among some residents since a May 28 fire displaced 241 elderly or disabled at the privately owned Patten Towers.
"What is the plan of action if there is an emergency?" said 71-year-old Boynton resident Juanita Moore, who walks with a cane.
CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said she is more aware of the need for an emergency plan after assisting displaced Patten Towers residents.
"Just having experienced the whole Patten Towers thing makes me realize that we can do a better job than what we've been doing to prepare the residents," she said.
McCright said she plans to update CHA's emergency preparedness plan and to see that fire drills are conducted.
CHA residents at some buildings say the drills already have begun.
Worry about emergency preparedness emerged at a Boynton resident council meeting attended by nearly two dozen elderly and disabled.
Bennie Haynes, president of the Boynton Terrace Resident Council, said residents have been asking for a fire drill for at least three years. He has lived at the site since 2000 and said there has been only one fire drill in that time. On top of that, most of the residents knew the fire department was coming, he said.
Under city code, fire drills in high-rise buildings are required to be conducted annually by employees of the facility, Mayor Andy Berke's communications director, Lacie Stone, said in an emailed statement.
The Chattanooga Fire Department and ambulance respond to the Boynton site at least 10 times a month, said Haynes.
Disabled residents like Linda Denton, who is in a wheelchair and lives on the eighth floor at Boynton, asked what they should do to get out if there's a fire and the elevators are not working.
The elevators are working now, and Haynes said that is usually the case.
McCright said a Red Cross representative who worked with her to assist Patten Towers residents will speak to residents at all four senior sites.
The Red Cross said the first step would be advising residents to have an emergency bag already packed.
McCright said she's unsure whether the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees CHA, requires fire drills. HUD could not be reached for comment.
McCright said she will contact the fire department about fire drills, but apparently, some already have been scheduled.
Adele Darling said there hasn't been a fire drill at Dogwood since she moved there in 2010, but the site is scheduled to have one now.
McCright said the housing authority has an emergency plan, but she wants to update that plan in coordination with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.
She said her goal isn't just to fulfill a requirement but to create a meaningful living plan.
"I want to develop a real plan," McCright said, "[in case] something like this happened at one of our sites."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or call 423-757-6431.