Preliminary Readout of Emergency Calls and Dispatch Times for WMATA Incident at L’Enfant Plaza

“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

From 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

Additional information regarding the incident will be released in the coming days.”

25 Comment

  • so the first they actually knew of the problem was 3:18 from a construction worker?
    And they didn’t actually know that the train was trapped until someone from the train called?

    This really does seem like it should have been solved in 5 minutes.

  • One of the passenger of the train published yesterday on twitter (@JRogers202) his pictures of the accident taken with his cellphone, including EXIF datas proving that they were stuck in the train for more than 1 hour before evacuation. First picture at 3:20pm, first firefighter aboard at 4:20pm, evacuation at 4:22pm.

    • Wow, that’s awful. Especially since WMATA confirmed the power was shut down at 3:44. What the hell did the firemen do for the next half hour?

      • Rumors say they didn’t trust metro employees who told them the third rail was turned off… Maybe themselves were not sure about it. It is unbelievable that a station manager is not able to see live the status of such an important device in his own station… This is clearly, IMHO, a dysfunction in metro crisis management… I hope the investigation will bring us the truth…

        • Mug of Glop

          This Washington Post article from Tuesday ( quotes the interim fire chief as saying that firefighters on site couldn’t get WMATA to confirm to them that the rail had been powered off. What that means practically is hard to say, but it’s no rumor.

          • (Again, just my thoughts – not DCFD) the issue isn’t power (we have voltage probes and a more permanent piece that sits on the 3rd rail with lights and horns if power goes off) – but if OCC can’t confirm that the train operator is aware of FFs on the track and has put on the brakes, we won’t move forward. In other words, if the train operator kept trying to move the train back to the station (even if the 3rd rail power was cut) our department wouldn’t move towards the train.

          • Mug of Glop

            No doubt! I’d be wary of that as well. The fact that no one seemed to make any guarantees to the emergency responders is more an indictment of WMATA’s pretty blatant set of failures of communication and protocol in the situation than those responders’ abundance of caution.

        • What I don’t understand is why the firefighters didn’t just assume the third rail was live and then enter the tracks carefully. There are posters in Metro cars that explain how to safely evacuate through a tunnel while avoiding the third rail. If passengers are expected to be able to do that, then why can’t firefighters?

          • Yes, this. I’m sure WMATA did all sorts of stupid things, but the idea that a bunch of firemen would stand around for 30 minutes waiting for a phone call while a woman died is just mind-boggling. Or should be, anyway, if this weren’t the second time in a year that the DC FEMS has behaved that way.
            WMATA workers enter tunnels with a live third rail and running trains literally every day. If our firemen can’t handle that, then we need better-trained firemen.

          • I could understand under most circumstances waiting to be 100% sure that the power was off but if you’re getting reports that people are unconscious or having seizures I think you need to get in there. Bring enough people to do crowd control and just get the very sick off the train.

          • Keep in mind that DCFD let a person die on their doorstep w/o even trying to help him out a short while back. I think there were some insurance/legal issues, nevertheless, don’t expect a “Damn the torpedoes” attitude.

  • 25 minutes between the time that WMATA confirmed the power was shut off and the time that a medic was requested for the lady who died.

    What the hell were the firefighters doing during that period?

  • Some things I noted offhand. 3:14 – 3:19 to dispatch one engine to Chinatown – too long. Again, 3:22 – 3:28 is way too long for initial dispatch. Not sure what OUC does, but our dispatches generally try to turn around initial call to dispatch to the firehouse in under 90 seconds, from call pickup (including nature of call, incident location, etc..) 2nd dispatch was nice that it was a box alarm instead of just smoke in station – got large number of units rolling quickly. 3:31 is when R1 arrived. Were they unaware of the train until BFC advised at 3:44? When/how was he advised of the train stuck in the tunnel?

    I would have to hear the whole radio transmission to get more information, but DC wisely *ha* encrypted them so even us (a department within the COG) has issues communicating when we are running mutual/automatic aid calls. The encryption took place around New Years – wonder if there was any training done with the encrypted radios in the tunnels (that had enough problems using clear text radios)

    • I am very curious to see if encryption impacted things. The new system also switched to 700mhz for some of the talk groups. I wonder if the in tunnel repeaters and antennas were designed to work at that Frequency.

  • Why were people forced to stay on a train that was filling with smoke? The train is a confined space with limited oxygen. Smoke can dissipate in the air outside, and once outside the train people can walk in the opposite direction of the source of the smoke. The train was only 800 feet from the platform.

  • Why was a unit dispatched to Gallery Place when the issue was at L’enfant? Even if the third rail is activated–don’t the evacuation signs on the trains advise how to walk around the third rail?

  • Of all disturbing things here, the most is what happened between these two “events”?

    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

  • What’s the deal with the report of a fire at Gallery Place? Had the smoke from L’Enfant reached GP that quickly? If so, why didn’t some Metro worker at L’Enfant notice it before then?

    • It sounds like that may have been a second, possibly unrelated event. Because apparently Metro just catches on fire routinely?

  • Were the firemen from DC and Arlington not sure whose responsibility it was since a caller from the train was sent over to Arlington 911?
    We’d originally been told online that the train was 200ft from L’Enfant, going towards Pentagon. Now, if I understand correctly, it’s 800ft from L’Enfant, having just left Pentagon station? Confusing.

    • The train also has a fixed length, so there are varying reports of distance from L’Enfant likely due to where individuals were located on the train (front vs back)

    • I believe the correct information is that the train (I’m assuming this means the *front* of the train) was about 800 ft into the tunnel after leaving L’Enfant Station (heading southbound towards VA). The source of the smoke was 1100 ft south of the station, i.e. 300 feet in front of the train. All of this occurred in DC, before the train got to the river. From the timeline above it sounds like the one caller was referred to Arlington 911 because he mentioned Pentagon (where the train was heading) and not because the incident occurred in Arlington.

  • So one of the major issues is that the Rail Operations Center didn’t tell FEMS that they had a train on the tracks in a smoke condition. If this is correct, which it may not be, it looks like someone on the train dialed 911 which is how they found out. Given that the train operator was screaming to his dispatcher about the arcing, I don’t see how this happened.

  • I find the lack of effective response to help those on the smoke-filled train, and the lack of coordination between WMATA and emergency responders, unconscionable.

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