Investigation into Metro incident reveals emergency response communication problems

Following a tragic metro accident on Jan. 12, 2015, the National Transportation Board of Safety linked the incident to a power malfunction on the third rail, citing that it was not shut off for 44 minutes as it generated smoke due to an electrical arcing event.

More concerning than this finding is that the report discovered that the firefighters dispatched to the scene could not communicate via radios and had to resort to using their cellphones.

Only five firefighters rushed to the scene, one of which had to stay back to receive cellphone coverage. As a result, some passengers had to wait 30 minutes to be rescued.

According to the DCist, emergency communications had been a problem for the D.C. metro. Only four days before the incident, the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department had notified the metro system of lack of radio coverage in L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station where the accident occurred.

D.C. Fire Lt. Stephen Kuhn, leader of the first rescuers to reach the train, commended the calm behavior of the passengers in keeping the death toll down. “There was no pushing, no shoving. It was absolutely the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen,” Kuhn told the Washington Post in an interview on Saturday.

The slow emergency response and lack of communication among metro workers and emergency rescuers bring into question the D.C. Metro’s adherence to “safety culture,” which they vowed to follow after a deadly metro accident left eight riders and a train operator dead in 2009.

In response to this incident, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has demanded a more thorough investigation in order to address the emergency response issues. Bowser told The Post “There is a lot to learn from this incident, and we would just compound the tragedy if we did not take those lessons and make improvements.”

Photo: Mr. Nixter via flickr

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