Despite intense scrutiny from lawmakers and federal safety regulators in the month since the deadly Metro incident that sent dozens of riders to the hospital and resulted in one death, local transit and public safety officials haven't convinced passengers that the Jan. 12 emergency couldn't happen again.
After 75 minutes of testimony and questioning, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee put the spotlight on Jonathan Rogers, a witness to the Metro chaos, who captured video from within the train and worked with fellow passengers to administer CPR to Carol I. Glover, the 61-year-old woman who died of acute respiratory failure due to smoke exposure. "Probably the most important stakeholder is the commuter and the confidence you have in the system," said Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif. "Having listened to all this — and clearly something that was emotional and will stay with you the rest of your life — do you have any sense of greater confidence in the system? And that this won't happen again?"
After a pause, Rogers replied, "I guess not yet, not at this point. But I am, you know, I'm hopeful that they can make the changes that [will] increase safety."
During the Friday morning hearing, members listened to the 9-1-1 call and watched the video shot by a Rogers as they delved into safety gaps surrounding the emergency. Questions about first responder training, radio interoperability and cellphone service in the underground Metro tunnels dominated the stern hearing , as lawmakers grilled the chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Board of Directors and the District of Columbia's assistant fire chief.
"You can hear the communications were garbled, so people wouldn't know if the conductor can't tell them, 'we've got people trapped in a car down here,'" said Rep. John Mica, chairman of the Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee. "Is that solved, too?"
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., grilled Edward R. Mills, assistant chief of operations with D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, on why only 100 of the agency's 1,700 firefighters and medics had received training last year at Metro's facility in Landover, Md., the site of a simulated rail tunnel that drills with mannequins and theatrical smoke.
"Weakness number one, we don't have consistency in the requirement for training in responding to an incident in Metro anywhere in the system," Connolly said, emphasizing he was concerned D.C. has sent so few firefighters to the training, given so much of the city's system is underground.
Mills defended his troops, saying they operated "tremendously" on Jan. 12, despite gaps in communication, and were only able to do so because of training they had received in years past.
"Mr. Mills, you don't need to defend the rank and file," Connolly replied. "They're brave men and women and they put themselves in harm's way. This is a management issue."
Many lawmakers asked why, more than 14 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in resources and training for first responders, public transportation systems continue to experience disturbing safety gaps.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said radio failures on 9/11 attributed to the deaths of more than 300 firefighters, and asked why projects to upgrade interoperability are not working. "I feel it's critical and serious, and that we need to be able to do it to save lives," she said.
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