Today, March 15, 2017 the last alarm will be sounded for one of Houston’s finest, Captain William “Iron Bill” Dowling. Although Iron Bill fought tirelessly these last few years, he went home with the good lord shortly before his 44th birthday: March 14, 1973- March 7, 2017.
While we mourn the loss of this Houstonian Hero, we also remember his service to his city and country. On May 31, 2013, Houston Fire Department suffered its most tragic event in its history. A 5-alarm blaze at a hotel in southwest Houston claimed the lives of four firefighters and injured fourteen other firefighters when the roof collapsed--some critically.
The following lives were lost:
Captain EMT Matthew Renaud, 35, of Station 51;
Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee, 41, of Station 51;
Firefighter EMT Robert Garner, 29, of Station 68;
Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan, 24, of Station 68.
They were the best we had in Houston, and we are still saddened that they are gone. One of the brave who survived was Captain Dowling.
Iron Bill was injured serving Houston, the community in which he was raised. A graduate of Klein Oak High School, Captain Dowling left Texas to serve his nation as an enlistee with the United States Marine Corps. In 1993, on leave from Marine boot camp training, he married his high school sweetheart--Jacki. As a Marine, Iron Bill served 4 years, including a deployment to Somalia with I Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation Restore Hope, 1995. He returned home to Texas and to Jacki to begin his career and to start a family. Twenty-one years later, Captain Dowling and Jacki have three children: Forrest, Faith and Foster.
Iron Bill's patriotic spirit and love of the community led him to join the Houston Fire Department. He graduated from the Houston Fire Department Academy in 2000 and steadily rose through the ranks. He worked at Stations 12, 19, and 48 before making Captain at Station 68 in January of 2013. Firehouse 68 is located at the corner of Bissonnet and South Gessner in the “heart of Southwest Houston''. In 2013, the fire apparatus of Firehouse 68 made 14,847 responses, making it the third busiest fire station in the City of Houston. There, at Firehouse 68, Captain Dowling became known as ``Iron Bill,'' a fitting nickname to describe a strong and courageous hero.
It was just five months after he arrived at Station 68 that Captain Dowling and fellow firefighters received an alarm call that would take them to the gates of hell.
On that fateful day, in the heat of the Texas noonday sun, Captain Dowling along with the four other firefighters rushed into the hotel to find potential trapped guests. While the firefighters were in the hotel, the roof collapsed, trapping and killing Garner and Sullivan from Station 68 and Bebee and Renaud from Station 51. Captain Dowling's legs were crushed and burned, but he remained calm, radioed for help and waited for his brothers to pull him from the flames.
The attending physician in the ambulance said that Captain Dowling, though severely injured, kept asking about the condition of his crew. He was more concerned for the safety of others than himself--the testament of a true hero. He told the doctor, on the way to the hospital, to tell his wife and children that he would fight for them. Hearing this comes as no surprise to Captain Dowling's family: they know him as a fighter.
Captain Dowling was seriously injured with burns over thirty percent of his body, and he was placed in a medically induced coma for months at Memorial Hermann Hospital and Medical Center. He subsequently had both legs amputated and suffered brain damage. A long road of recovery was ahead for Captain Dowling, but surrounded by a team of doctors, his family, firefighter family, friends, church and the entire city and state of Texas, Iron Bill was not alone. Deservingly, Captain Dowling became everyone's hero.
Since returning home, Jacki left her full time job at Frank Elementary to care for her husband full time. It's no surprise that as a Texas woman, she's strong and determined, but quite simply, the strength that she possesses is amazing. To keep the community updated on Iron Bill, she started blogging on a community Facebook page (entitled “Capt. William Dowling Iron Bill''). This blog allows the community to rally behind the Dowling family: cry with them, laugh with them, pray for them and see their hero survive.
In August of 2016, the Dowling family moved to Durango, Colorado in order for Captain Dowling to make the most of his journey in the great outdoors. He became hooked on skiing through Adaptive Sports. Jacki said he was the healthiest he had been in a long time and was thriving in the mountain air so Jacki returned to coaching volleyball.
On the morning of March 7, 2016 Jacki asked for prayers for Iron Bill, as she was worried about his recent spell with pneumonia. That evening Captain William Dowling took his final journey home into the arms of the good lord.
Captain Dowling will be remembered for his bravery, determination, and loyalty. He always put others ahead of himself and was dedicated to serving his community. The legacy Iron Bill leaves behind is one that his friends, family, and community will never forget.
Today, the entire city of Houston will pay tribute to the life of one of Houston’s heroes, one of our finest.
Houston firefighters are grateful for the support of 174 firefighters from 30 Texas departments that will ride in Houston stations tomorrow so A-shift firefighters can attend the memorial service for "Iron Bill" Dowling. Thanks to firefighters from College Station, Plano, Montgomery County, Conroe, Weatherford, Pearland, New Braunfels, South Montgomery County, Fort Worth, Sugar Land, China Grove, Kemah, West University, Longview, Nacogdoches, Bexar County ESD 2, Lewisville, Galveston, Lubbock, Baytown, Southlake, Benbrook, Seguin, Austin, Dallas, Westfield, Waco, Hutchins, Tomball, and The Woodlands.
As the family of Iron Bill mourns the loss of a great man, I hope they know the community of Tomball, the greater Houston area and Texas' Second District will keep the family in their thoughts and prayers. Our community will always be grateful for his service and sacrifices. Once a hero, always a hero. That’s the man we call Iron Bill.
And that's just the way it is.