DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – The first call came in at 2:55 on the morning of May 20 – an apartment fire, a big one …and getting bigger…in Northeast Dallas.
The unrelenting fire raced to six alarms as firefighters arriving on the scene searched inside – not once, but twice – finding no one to rescue.
Then, as the blaze began to gain an upper hand, Dallas firefighters moved from an “offensive” to a “defensive” attack, vacating the structure and throwing tons of water on it.
CBS 11’s I-Team has learned that what happened next – ordering five Dallas firefighters back into the apartment complex, even though the fire had been raging for more than an hour – has raised questions on whether serious mistakes were made.
One of those firemen, Stanley Wilson, never came out. He died when the complex collapsed, trapping the 28-year-veteran. He left behind a wife and two teenaged sons.
“Obviously, it was a terrible day for us,” said Wilson’s younger brother, Ken Wilson.
The I-Team has learned the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department is investigating the events of that deadly morning, including why the five firefighters were ordered back into the building a third time, especially since it had already been searched and had been significantly weakened by fire, water and an earlier collapse.
“What the hell was somebody thinking to send firefighters back in there,” said one former Dallas firefighter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a continued close relationship with the department.
The fire in the 12000 block of Abrams Road is also being investigated by the state Fire Marshal’s Office, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Dallas Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Joel Lavender would not comment on the fire, instead releasing this statement:
“The Dallas Fire-Rescue Department (DFR) is in the process of completing an official report into the line-of-duty death (LODD) of Firefighter Stanley Wilson. As with all LODD reports, we have conducted interviews, reviewed raw media footage, constructed time lines and now we are in the process of completing this report. We do not have a timeline for the completion of this report, however past LODD reports have taken eight or more months to complete. To maintain the integrity of the DFR official report, the department and it’s members will not comment on this report.”
Sources tell the I-Team the order to go back inside was made by Deputy Chief Bobby Ross, believing there could still be victims inside. However, those same sources say Ross has told investigators he did not issue the order.
Ross declined multiple requests for an interview with CBS 11.
“We’re lucky we didn’t lose five firefighters that day,” said the former Dallas firefighter who agreed to talk to the I-Team, adding: “I would say a whole lot of firefighters are extremely disappointed in the way this is going down.”
David White, a veteran fireman who now teaches firefighters around the world on how to better protect themselves, said it is unlikely someone could survive inside a building that had been on fire for more than an hour.
“I mean, there’s nothing to save,” said White, of College Station, who was not involved in the fire that killed Wilson.
He also said Wilson’s death comes at a time when officials are seeing an increase in the number of firefighters killed and seriously injured while fighting fires.
“And that concerns me …we’ve got to learn to read the fire better,” White said.
Ken Wilson said he and his family would like answers soon on what led to his brother’s death.
“I would like for this thing to come to an end on the questions we have,” Wilson told the I-Team, adding: “We want to make sure that the events that happened …that led to Stan’s death …as much as possible, won’t ever happen again.”
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