Report: radio trouble for firefighters at DC subway incident

18 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Electrical problem on smoky DC subway lasted 44 minutes.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Firefighters responding to an electrical malfunction on the Washington subway system had difficulty communicating by radio and some had to use cellphones instead, according to a preliminary report released by the city Saturday. A letter from WMATA in Sunday’s paper is expected to offer apologies to the family of the fatal victim in this week’s smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza, as well as the other passengers still recovering after smoke filled the Metro tunnel and a stopped train.

This handout photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows Damage from the arcing incident in the tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza Station. According to the report, fire officials told WMATA about a problem with radio coverage at the L’Enfant Plaza station on Jan. 8, according to Fox5DC. An email chain included in the 37-page report about the fire department’s response shows transit officials were contacted Jan. 8 about a radio coverage problem at the station.

The transit agency had been doing work on the communication system and believed it was working, though problems in tunnel areas continued, a transit employee responded the same day. The report says fire officials’ radios could still function as walkie-talkies, meaning they could communicate short distances, but what they were saying wasn’t being broadcast so anyone listening to the radio could hear. District of Columbia officials have said their emergency response was delayed because Metro didn’t say whether the electrified third rail had been shut down between the platform and the train. The firefighter also suggested that the kind of cars that made up the train may have led passengers to wait for rescuers rather than evacuating themselves. The train operator repeatedly told passengers to stay put, and many remained on the train for at least a half-hour before firefighters began evacuating them.

In four of the train’s six cars, the way to get doors to open is not obvious and requires loosening screws on a panel above the door, the firefighter wrote. One of those passengers, Malbert Rich, 53, said he composed final text messages to his mother and children while aboard the train, thinking he might not survive. But the new report says it then took rescuers four minutes to get to the train platform and that they then entered the tunnel to get to the train, reaching it at about 3:40 p.m. Fellow passengers performed CPR on her before emergency medical workers arrived, and she wasn’t taken to a hospital until more than an hour after the train began filling with smoke. The accident was the first fatality on the nation’s second-busiest subway system since a 2009 crash between two trains that killed eight passengers and a train operator.

The report suggests that it was a second group of arriving firemen that was concerned about third rail power when they heard trains still running, despite using emergency boxes to disable power to the tracks themselves. The NTSB is reviewing records on maintenance and previous events with smoke, employee training records and Metro’s emergency response and evacuation plans.

The NTSB has said that the smoke was caused by electrical “arcing,” which happens when electricity from the third rail comes into contact with another substance that conducts electricity, such as water.

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