Passengers stayed calm during fatal Metro smoke incident

WASHINGTON — Despite being trapped on a train in a smoke-filled tunnel, passengers aboard the Metro Yellow Line train that got stuck near L’Enfant Plaza in January showed an uncanny cool.

Interviews with the first responders, made public in the National Transportation Safety Board investigation, reveal an unexpected calmness as firefighters got to the train near L’Enfant Plaza.

“There was no pushing,” D.C. Fire Lt. Stephen Kuhn told investigators. “There was no shoving from the passengers, I mean, no yelling.”

He described the smoke as being so thick the taillights weren’t visible until the rescue squad was right on top of the train.

When the first firefighters opened the train car doors, they saw passengers on the floor trying to find clean air.

“I’ve got to say, throughout the whole incident I was extremely surprised with the amount of help that other passengers were willing to… give,” Jason Woods, a firefighter from Rescue Squad 1, told investigators.

He said passengers even helped point out who needed help the soonest.

The interviews also exposed just how bad radio communication was in the tunnel.

Kuhn and Woods said their radios were “honking out.”

“It’s definitely an issue if I’m standing there looking at my officer three cars away on a platform and can’t make communication with him,” Woods said.

The radios didn’t even work one train car apart.

Again, passengers stepped up.

Two riders offered to be runners to take messages from one firefighter to another.

On Jan. 12, passengers stuck on a Yellow Line train near the L’Enfant Plaza Station waited up to 45 minutes before firefighters began to help them escape the smoke-filled train and tunnel. Meanwhile hundreds of people poured out of the downtown station coughing or vomiting – many with soot under their noses. Dozens were hospitalized and an Alexandria woman, Carol Glover, died as a result of smoke inhalation.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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