WASHINGTON (AP) — A judge should dismiss lawsuits against Washington's transit agency over a deadly fire inside a tunnel because the city's fire department, not the Metro transit system, is responsible for rescuing passengers, Metro argued in a court filing.
The January 2015 fire inside a downtown Washington tunnel was caused by an electrical malfunction. A train became stranded in the tunnel and filled with smoke, killing passenger Carol Glover and sickening more than 80 others. Glover's two sons have filed a $50 million lawsuit against Metro, arguing that Metro's negligence led to her death.
The National Transportation Safety Board blamed Metro's poor maintenance and ineffective inspection practices for the fire, arguing that Metro failed to properly install and maintain third-rail power cables, causing them to become damaged by contaminants that led to the fire.
The NTSB also faulted the District of Columbia fire department for inadequate training, and city officials also found problems at the city's 911 call center that led to delays in sending firefighters to the scene. The fire department has reformed its training practices and procedures at the 911 center have been changed since the incident.
In its court filing Monday arguing for dismissal of the Glovers' lawsuit, Metro said it "expressly denies" that it "owes a duty to (the agency's) passengers to assist, rescue and/or evacuate passengers on Metrorail trains in the event of a fire-emergency situation."
Mayor Muriel Bowser and Fire Chief Gregory Dean declined to comment Tuesday on the specifics of the court filing, but they said firefighters acted heroically when they walked into the smoky tunnel and led more than 200 passengers to safety.
"Our firefighters ran into harm's way to make sure that they served and saved people," Bowser said. "But for their actions, we don't even know what the severity of that incident could have been."
Metro statement pic.twitter.com/SeLllGBMi9— Matt Ackland (@mattacklandfox5) January 10, 2017
WMATA's blame game continues, this time first responders at the deadly L'Enfant Plaza METRO tunnel fire pic.twitter.com/1QTb6vHgfw— DC Fire Fighters L36 (@IAFF36) January 10, 2017
Jackie Jeter, president of Metro's union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said in a statement:
"In the two years since the L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident tragically took the life of Carol Glover, WMATA has failed to prioritize the creation of an effective safety culture. Metro must be the first to take responsibility for its system. WMATA’s leadership should be focused on training employees to be prepared for emergencies and creating a culture that will ensure the safety of riders and frontline employees. For ATU Local 689, safety is Job One and we will continue to call on WMATA’s leadership to make the reforms, like workforce development, that addresses emergency preparedness so that Metro will be safer for everyone."