We should expect readiness for subway medical and fire response

Timeline of DCFEMS response to stranded subway riders leads to more questions than answers


The preliminary timeline of events after a Washington D.C. Metro subway train stopped in a smoked-filled tunnel shows an inordinately long delay for emergency assistance from the D.C. Fire and EMS Department to passengers. Firefighters waited for notification that the tunnel was safe to enter. Ambulances were not on scene for more than 30 minutes and it was more than an hour before a patient in cardiac arrest was taken to the hospital. City officials are saying ambulances were there sooner, but not telling us when.

Thirteen years after September 11, 2001, a smoke-filled subway tunnel should not be an event that hasn't been planned, drilled, re-planned, and drilled again. Although a highly dangerous environment, the response to and extrication of subway passengers from a subway tunnel should not be an unexpected or surprising event for DCFEMS and Metro authority. Emergency responders, and the leaders of the organization that employ us, have a responsibility to have plans in place for likely emergencies and have prepared and trained for those emergencies.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigation will hopefully shine a bright light on DCFEMS and potentially lead to actionable and sensible recommendations that will improve responses to all incidents, regardless of size. The ongoing reports of mismanagement, computer glitches, and failing to respond, that come out of D.C. should trouble all of us.

Finally, I have exclusively used the Metro on my visits to D.C. for EMS conferences. Like the tens of thousands of D.C. residents and visitors that ride the Metro subway I will be haunted by this bystander video taken inside a smoke-filled train car on my next visit to our nation's capital.

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