DC’s timeline of Metro incident released – Raises questions on how fast 911 center handled the calls

DC Metro incident 3a 1-12-15

After much pressure and a leaked timeline published by The Washington Post last night, the DC government has finally released the basic timeline of Monday’s Metro incident where 200 people were trapped in a smoke filled Metro train at L’Enfant Plaza. The timeline (below) raises some questions.

What we don’t seem to have at this point is information from Metro as to exactly when they first learned of any sort of problem at L’Enfant Plaza. All we know is the time they called  OUC, DC’s Office of Unified Communications (911 center).   That information will have to come from Metro or NTSB. In a number of previous incidents Metro has waited to check things out before asking for a response from firefighters.

What I am sure will stick out to anyone in the fire service who looks at this timeline is the turn-around time at the 911 center. While only minutes are given, with no seconds, it appears from this timeline it took around five minutes to dispatch a single engine to the debris fire inside the Gallery Place Metro Station. You also have to wonder if sending a single engine to such a call is appropriate.

Then, from the initial report of smoke inside the upper level of L’Enfant Plaza until the dispatch of the full Metro box assignment to L’Enfant Plazat took approximately six minutes. Does anyone find that acceptable?

It’s also not clear from reading this which fire or EMS unit arrived at 9th and Water Streets, SW at 3:25 and what time they were dispatched.

Also, from the arrival of Rescue 1 at L’Enfant Plaza until the confirmation from Metro of third rail power being shut is 13 minutes. That seems long.

Both the call turn-around time at DC’s OUC and delays by Metro’s Operations Control Center (OCC ) in calling for help from firefighters have long been problems. In February, 2007 I showed it took 10-minutes for the 911 center (OUC) to dispatch a Metro box alarm to the Farragut North Station. DC officials admitted they booted three calls from Metro in that incident. A month earlier it took Metro 12 minutes to report a derailment at the Mount Vernon Square station. In April, 2000 Metro waited 15 minutes to report a fire in the tunnel at Foggy Bottom with 270 people trapped on a train. In the Foggy Bottom incident and many other incidents that I’ve covered going back to the mid 1990s there have been communications problems between Metro and area fire departments over the cutting of third rail power.

And on another part of this story, NTSB has confirmed that along with Metro, the DC Fire & EMS Department and the DC government are signers of NTSB’s agreement to be a “party” of the investigation. That means to remain a “party” and to be privy to the internal information that is shared among the parties, all release of information about the incident has to be coordinated with NTSB. You can read that agreement here.

From: Rashad Young, City Administrator

To: Members of the Public and Media

Re: Preliminary Readout of Emergency Calls and Dispatch Times for WMATA Incident

Date: Thursday, January 15th 

Following the incident at WMATA, Mayor Bowser has ordered a review of the response to the event, to be conducted in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) ongoing investigation into the causes of the smoke incident and prevention of any such events. On Tuesday, Mayor Bowser also designated me the District government’s lead official to review the incident response and assist the NTSB in any way possible. 

The Administration will continue to investigate many aspects of the incident, including, but not limited to response time and communications.  Below please find a preliminary timeline as to the early sequence of events, which, notably, involved not one but three metro stations.     

There were initially 13 emergency calls either to 911 or to the Office of Unified Communications supervisor. Fire and EMS units were dispatched to three different locations based on initial emergency calls. 

3:14   Metro Rail’s Unit 22 called to report a debris fire on the tracks at Gallery Place Station, upper and lower levels

3:19   Engine 02 Unit Dispatched to 7th St NW/H St NW (Gallery Place Metro)

3:18   A caller from a construction site reported smoke coming out of the Metro tunnel at 9th and Water St SW

3:22   Metro Rail’s Unit 22 called to advise of heavy smoke at L’Enfant Plaza Metro upper level

3:22   Engine 02 Arrived at 7th St NW/H St NW (Gallery Place Metro)

3:24   Metro Transit Official called requesting medics and fire units at L’Enfant Plaza Station for smoke in the station and reported citizens in the station could barely breathe

3:25   FEMS units arrived at 9th St SW/Water St SW scene where there was an odor of smoke but no flames were seen

3:27   A caller at the entrance of L’Enfant station requested an ambulance

3:28   Metro box alarm was dispatched to 7th & D St SW; EMA is notified

3:31   Rescue 1 arrives (1st unit) at 7th and D St SW L’Enfant Station; MPD is dispatched

3:32   MPD unit 1D 1011 arrives 

3:32   A caller at the entrance of L’Enfant station requested an ambulance

3:33   A caller on the yellow line, in the tunnel stated the train was filled with smoke

3:33   A caller said he was “at or on” the Pentagon train and was transferred to Arlington 911 Center. The OUC call taker remained on the line and updated CAD which reflected this call

3:35   Engine 02 Unit cleared Gallery Place Metro and dispatched to L’Enfant Plaza

3:39   A caller on the train advised that it was filling with smoke.

3:42   A caller from a street location of 7th and E Street SW reported his wife was having difficulty breathing after she exited L’Enfant Station

3:42   Repeat caller from 3:33 – made inquiry “if help is on the way” the caller provided the train number 3031.  He was transferred to the Metro Transit Official who told him not to leave the train because the tracks were still live

3:43   A caller advised he was stuck on the train and it was filling with smoke

3:44   BFC advises that WMATA confirms that power is shut down; there is a train with people trapped

3:45   A male caller asked “if help is on the way because the train is filling with smoke”

3:45   A female caller asking if help is on the way because the train is filling with smoke

3:46   A second alarm dispatched

4:09   Battalion Chief 1 advises he is at Operations Command Center and there is a report of a patient having a seizure on the train; squad 1 advises 9th and D; and an adult female is undergoing CPR, requesting a medic

4:12   Medic 14 advises he is a block away from L’enfant plaza and will respond; Medic 6B responds that he is closer, medic 14 cancels the run

4:17   Medic 6B is given the corrected location on channel 0A12, 9th and D St SW

4:19   Command 2 directs all medical units on L’enfant Plaza to switch to 0A5 (tactical channel due to radio traffic)

4:25   Medic 27 transports patient to GW, CPR is still in progress


DC’s Metro disaster: A major crisis of confidence & no one has a clue how to deal with it

UPDATED: Victim’s pre-arrival video inside smoke filled Metro train – 1 dead, 2 critical after 2-alarm mass casualty incident in Washington, DC

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