DC Fire lieutenant criticizes Metro's response to smoke incident

The D.C. Fire & EMS lieutenant who was the first to reach passengers on a smoke-filled train last week is criticizing Metro for the way it handled the emergency. Lt. Stephen Kuhn says he had no idea anyone was trapped on the train until he got to the tunnel with his crew and spoke with a Metro Transit Police officer.

Kuhn, who is assigned to Rescue Squad 1, says the fans were not clearing the smoke as he entered the tunnel, and his radio failed as soon as he attempted to reach the incident commander on the scene.

Based on a new timeline released over the weekend by D.C. Fire & EMS, we now know it took far less than the 13 minutes the District government said it took for Rescue Squad 1 to get inside the tunnel at the L'Enfant Plaza Station. In fact, we now know that the members of Rescue Squad 1 went down the smoke-filled tunnel four minutes before a battalion fire chief was told the power to the third rail was shut down.  

Lt. Kuhn says he got the all-clear from a police officer on the platform.

"One of the officers was on his cell phone and he looked up from his phone and said OCC (operations control center) says power is down", Kuhn said. "That's when I tried to make contact with the battalion chief above ground to let him know we had a train in the tunnel with passengers, and third rail power was down and we were going into the tunnel. That's when my radio (failed) out and I was unable to transmit outside."

Lt. Kuhn says he couldn't see the train until he was right on top of it, and he was astonished to learn the passengers couldn't open the door.

"There's no instructions, you know, that will tell a civilian passenger how to open that door," he said.

Kuhn says a screw on either side of the panel has to be loosened in order to get to the lever to open the door. The veteran officer says the delay in getting help to the train is something he's experienced before.

"Typical Metro. They have a long history of trying to handle a situation themselves before calling 911. It doesn't matter what jurisdiction you're in", he said. "You could talk to any fire department in the D.C. region and they would probably have the same story."

We know from passengers who were on the train that approximately 7 minutes went by before anyone in the station called 911. Lt. Kuhn now wonders if Carol Glover-- the only passenger to die-- would still be alive if there had been a more swift response.

"Who knows, Ms. Glover may have had a better chance. I do know the rest of the passengers wouldn't have had to be inhaling that stuff as long as they did," Kuhn told FOX 5.

Lt. Kuhn has high praise for the passengers who calmly left the train-- none of the pushing, shoving or showing any kind of panic.

On Friday, FOX 5 first reported Metro's plan to back the smoke-filled train out of the station failed when the driver of a train blocking its path parked it on the tracks and left the station. Why that driver did so is still unclear. Metro is not answering any questions about the emergency.

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