Dallas Fire union: Explain conflicting LODD report

They want to know whether a deputy chief and others were truthful about what they did and said the night of the fire

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — The Dallas Fire Fighters’ Association announced Thursday that it wants an investigation into whether a deputy chief and others were truthful about what they did and said the night of a blaze that killed a firefighter last year.

The association’s members had discussed casting a vote of no confidence in Fire Chief Louie Bright and his command staff at the members-only meeting Thursday. The meeting was called to discuss what position the group would take on two reports — one from Dallas Fire-Rescue and one from the state — detailing Stanley Wilson’s line-of-duty death May 20, 2013.

Several firefighters say Deputy Chief Bobby Ross ordered them and Wilson to search inside a burning condo building, but Ross said he only told them to break exterior windows to rouse anyone still inside. Ross was not disciplined or put under investigation for his statements.

Despite divisions in the room of reportedly more than 100 firefighters, association president Doug Dickerson said, the consensus by the end of the meeting was to request another investigation.

“What we have today is clarity. We can clearly see that they shouldn’t have been there,” Dickerson said of Wilson and the other firefighters. “But there was something that caused them to be in there. Did someone give a specific order? What caused that to go down?”

He said he wants to get to the bottom of the conflict and find out if firefighters or commanders omitted facts, remembered incorrectly or “maybe flat-out lied” when they spoke to investigators looking into the incident.

He said he does not remember another time when the association called for an investigation following a line-of-duty-death report.

That report’s goal was to find out what led to Wilson’s death. A new investigation would have the goal of rooting out whether anyone was untruthful.

Dickerson said several of the association’s members — including Ross — could be targets of any internal probe. Ross did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

Dickerson said a firefighter who was “intimately involved” with Ross’ order will file the complaint with internal affairs in the “very near future.” That would probably mean the complaint would come from one of three firefighters who narrowly escaped the crumbling condo building: firefighter Michael McCaleb, Capt. Jeffery Modawell or Section Chief George Tomasovic.

When asked if he wanted to comment, Modawell said he “would love to” but has been given a direct order not to.

Internal affairs will determine whether to take up the investigation. Dickerson said the association would “strenuously object” if it didn’t.

Bright already declined to punish or investigate any of the firefighters involved in the report, saying “no one person bears all responsibility” for Wilson’s death. But a week after the report’s release, Bright temporarily reassigned Ross to a staff position where he no longer serves as an incident commander.

The reports detailed numerous errors, miscues and miscommunication at the fire scene by Ross and other commanders. Dickerson said he does not expect Bright to change his mind about discipline.

Bright has declined interview requests from The Dallas Morning News. His aide, Joel Lavender, said Thursday that he was seeking clarification of what the association is planning to do.

The report took 16 months to come out, and the city fought to keep it hidden until last month. Wilson’s widow, Jenny, publicly called for the report’s release after a year of waiting. She later retained an attorney to help her get it.

The attorney, Barry Hasten, said he believes the fire department has withheld more information about the report.

Hasten said he isn’t surprised the rank and file stepped up to demand answers.

“On behalf of Jenny Wilson and her family, we are grateful,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Dallas Morning News
All Rights Reserved

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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