How Does Muni Handle Medical Emergencies in Tunnels?
Photo by help
What should you (and SFMTA) do when there is a medical emergency on the train that’s in a tunnel? A rider sent in a story of witnessing a man who started to have a seizure on the train. But the train was stopped in the tunnel in what seemed like a perfect storm of a situation. From the eyewitness:
I am writing about an incident that occurred on a San Francisco Muni Metro train. I was a passenger on an Inbound L train a few minutes after 10am on Thursday, May 9th, 2013.
Around this time, a passenger in the front car experienced a medical emergency, fell out of his seat and landed face-first in the aisle. At the time, our train was stopped in the tunnel between Church station and Van Ness station. I rushed to the driver compartment to alert the driver we needed immediate medical assistance, while two other passengers knelt over the man on the floor. The man on the floor began to have a seizure.
I said to the train driver that a man had collapsed and that we needed medical help. She proceeded to radio in to muni dispatch on a radio channel she described as, “for emergencies, when lives are in danger.” She told me that since our train was in the tunnel it was under automatic control, and we couldn’t advance forward to the Van Ness station. As I stood by her compartment door, she approached the passengers attending to the man in distress. She advised them to move him onto his side for his safety.
Several minutes went by without any response from a dispatcher on the “emergency, when lives are in danger” radio channel. I checked my phone to see if I could even contact 911 myself, since the muni emergency radio channel seemed to be unmanned. However, at the position we were at in the tunnel, there was absolutely no cell service. Enough time passed that the driver even made an announcement to both cars of the train stating that a passenger was experiencing a medical emergency, that she had radioed for help and hadn’t gotten a response, and that she was doing all that she could.
When the driver finally received a response on the radio, she was advised to switch the train to manual control, and pull it forward to the Van Ness platform. We reached the Van Ness platform approximately 5-10 minutes after the passenger collapsed. However, we were not greeted by EMS or police. In fact, we weren’t met by any official personnel at all. About a minute after pulling into the station, a Muni custodian came over and asked if anyone had come to us yet. The driver even was appalled by the slow response time, and began trying to reach 911 on her cell phone.
At this point the passenger that had experienced the seizure was conscious, but still laying on the floor. He looked around and seemed a bit dazed. He pulled himself up off the floor and into the seat he had been in near the middle doors of the train.
A man carrying a walkie-talkie that seemed like a Muni supervisor came down the stairs to the platform and approached the driver looking for the passenger that had experienced the seizures. The supervisor was directed to the dazed man now sitting in his seat. He asked the passenger if he could walk. The passenger did not respond. The Muni supervisor asked the man if he could talk. The passenger did not respond. An older Asian male passenger asked the man if he spoke Chinese. The passenger did not respond, and seemed to be in a complete daze.
At this point, the Muni supervisor helped the passenger up out of his seat and off the train. Rather than taking him to a place to sit down, the passenger was made to stand on the platform at Van Ness. Then the Muni supervisor directed the driver to get the train moving. At this point, we still had not seen any emergency or medical personnel. The train then pulled away with a man that had just collapsed from seizures standing with a Muni supervisor on the Van Ness station platform. At this point, it was about 10:20 am.
I am really concerned with the procedures, response times and handling of this situation by the Muni staff. If this had been a life-threatening emergency like a heart attack, I have no doubt in my mind that the afflicted would have perished on the floor of the train. I am further concerned for my safety and the safety of other passengers in the event of a larger emergency like an earthquake or a criminal situation.
The driver seemed to have been doing everything she could do, but I’m surprised she was not met by paramedics when the train finally arrived at the station. Have you been or witnessed in a similar emergency?