I’m not as limber as I once was and so I was having difficulty getting through the window but I didn’t have to fret for long because a stranger took my hand and pulled me through and when I lost my shoe on the rim of the window frame, he picked it up and gave it back to me and then turned and continued to help other strangers out of the train.
I wasn’t sure that I’d write about the chaotic experience of being on the Orange Line train yesterday in Boston’s Back Bay Station that filled with smoke. In the moment I was less concerned about the possibility of a fire in the station and more concerned about the growing panic of the people around me. Later I just wanted to let the incident go. But then today I picked up something and I remembered the feel of that man’s hand holding mine.
It was rush hour. People had had a long day and just wanted to get home. The car in which I stood was not packed but it was tight enough especially as most of us wore the beginnings of our winter gear. The lights were on but there wasn’t much air circulating and the intercom system must not have been working because there was no news being shared by anyone. The train had partially pulled away from Back Bay Station before coming to a halt, and later, officials would note that that was the reason the train operator could not open the doors, because of the danger of people stepping onto the tracks and landing on the electrified third rail. But most people were not thinking of that as the smoke grew thicker, and from inside the car, we could see people on the platform start to run for exits.
Even as I was starting to say, please, be calm, I felt my own panic rising. And then people began to scream, especially when they realized the doors were not opening. People began beating at the windows. The smaller windows on the sliding doors were easier to break. Individual flight was on many a person’s mind for sure but others were trying to help scared people through the small openings. Then in the part of the car where I stood, a man on the platform motioned people away from a larger window. He was not a train official or one of the policeman stationed in the area. He was just a regular guy. He kicked at the window, again and again, until it flew in, a single large sheet, shattering into a spider’s web pattern but no jagged edges did I see. People started leaping out the window while that man and some others stood, held out their hands and helped strangers out. I did not stop to ask his name but I think I shall never forget him.
Read more: Boston Globe article