Washington DC – On January 12th, 2015, fire and heavy smoke was reported by numerous callers including Metro Transit employees from inside the Metro tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza. The investigations are still being conducted by the Washington DC Mayor’s office, NTSB, and the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. One person died, 84 went to hospitals, over 200 people were evacuated, and over 110 Fire and EMS personnel responded to the scene. Fire Fighters reported that the victims were cooperative as they were being evacuated despite the heavy smoke in the tunnel and inside cars.
Can you imagine being stuck in a dark tunnel in a train car filling with smoke? You may have an idea to self extricate but the victims didn’t. According to Fire Fighters, all but two of the metro cars were a type that requires screws be loosened at the top of the door to gain access to the actual door release. During the event, 911 calls made from cellular phones continued to be answered by dispatchers but the police and fire responders two-way radio communications were not working reliably during the rescue. Many Fire Fighters used personal cellphones to communicate with leadership.
The first reports use interesting term about “diminished reception”. This supports the ongoing need for a layered approach to emergency communications. WMATA and supporting agencies conduct test to ensure sufficient reception in the Metro tunnels. But what happens if that test reveals the system is broken? The WMATA knew the 800 MHz system was not working and so did the DC FEMS. So why the apparent shock and confusion when they entered a smoke-filled tunnel to rescue over 200 people?
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) worked this time.
A lot of credit is due to the first responders of this terrible event. The written and verbal accounts of cooperation, selflessness, and quick thinking are all commendable. Thank you Fire Fighters for Bringing Your Own Device.