Nkel Morgan was operating the METRORail train on the Red Line northbound when she noticed the train was jarring and shaking hard as she pulled into the Smith Lands Station.
She stepped outside on the evening of July 6 around 8 p.m. to see if the train were dragging something. Instead, she saw flames - blue, red and white - burning under the train. A bad bearing in a wheel had seized the wheels, created friction and heat, and caught on fire.
“My first impulse was to run, but I said to myself, ‘Wait, I got passengers on the train.’ I told everybody to clear the cab and get to the sidewalk,” said Morgan, a train operator of two years at METRO. “I cleared that train. Then I grabbed a fire extinguisher and pointed it at the flames.”
It was the first time Morgan had ever used a fire extinguisher - and it worked.
The former school teacher from East St. Louis, Ill., with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in teaching, stayed calm as she cleared two train cars - and her passengers stayed calm because of her demeanor.
“They just deboarded the train and walked across the street and waited. I put the fire out. My supervisor was in the downtown area ,and it took 20 minutes to get me,” recalled Morgan. “I didn’t have a chance to really digest it all because I had to finish my run for the day. I get off at 3 a.m. As I started driving home, I started getting emotional. My train was on fire! It could have been a lot worse.”
Morgan credits her years of school teaching for her calm, take-charge attitude in the crisis. “When you deal with kids on a regular basis, it helps for you to stay calm. That was a precursor to be able to deal with things in a way that won’t upset other people.”
Morgan’s supervisor said he was impressed. “Her calm response and quick action to a very unusual situation really showcases the special type of people I get to work with here on the Rail,” said Jamison Malcolm, assistant superintendent of Rail Transportation.
Jeffrey Crump, superintendent of Rail Transportation, said safety remains METRO’s No. One priority. “Our rules are in place to ensure a safe operation. With the constant reviewing and testing of our rules, this shows safety is always present,” said Crump. “Ms. Morgan has a pleasant personality and is soft-spoken, but I am not surprised at how she handled the emergency, being a former school teacher. Great job, Ms. Morgan!”
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