ROCKVILLE – As recently as December Montgomery County fire fighters trained alongside employees of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) at a Gaithersburg rail station on how to respond to a variety of emergency scenarios.
Montgomery County Fire Department spokesperson Pete Piringer said the MCFD trains regularly with WMATA at the Gaithersburg rail yard and at the Metro Training Facility in Prince George’s County.
Metro training procedures have come under scrutiny following Monday’s incident that left 83 passengers hospitalized and one dead.
After leaving the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station a yellow line train was forced to stop in its tracks when smoke began entering its cabin. Passengers remained trapped on the train until authorities could reach them.
In the aftermath of the tragedy public officials still have many unanswered questions.
“We need answers to find out what happened and we need accountability from Metro to follow through on reforms that make Metro safe. We must come together just as we did after the 2009 crash. We are all safety officers when it comes to Metro,” said U.S. senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D.-Md.)
Mikulski, who has been an outspoken advocate for Metro safety and was the first to introduce a bill that established the first-ever national safety standards for transit systems, plans to convene a briefing for the National Transportation Safety Board and WMATA on Monday’s incident.
Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D), who heads the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, is also taking action. According to a statement from his office, Berliner requested Tuesday that “WMATA representatives brief the (committee) on existing protocols in an emergency situation like that which played out so tragically yesterday.” WMATA agreed to meet with Berliner and the Committee expects to schedule a meeting next week.
Although the investigation has now been taken over by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and as a result WMATA cannot speak to the facts pertaining to the event, WMATA representatives told Berliner they could share with the committee and the public what existing protocols are in place to protect riders in the event of an emergency such as Monday.
But on Wednesday afternoon WMATA Communications and Chief spokesperson Dan Stessel refused to release information on existing WMATA safety protocols, procedures and safety drills to The Sentinel, citing that it was “security sensitive information” and that a formal request for public access to records would have to be submitted in order to acquire it.
A brief list of evacuation steps and an “emergency evacuation animation” for the Metro is available online on their safety and security page.
In addition, Terry Williams, public affair officer for the NTSB, said any procedures and guidelines that were in place prior to the incident are public knowledge.
Williams said NTSB is not currently aware of any terrorist involvement in Monday’s incident and if there was, the case would have been turned over to the proper authorities.
Although the public will have to wait until the NTSB finishes its investigation to learn the cause of the incident, which according the NTSB website may “not be determined for 12 to 18 months after the accident”, Williams said if during the course of the investigation “we find something that is not safe we can make recommendations – we don’t have to wait for the conclusion of the study for that.”