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Dallas firefighter's widow calls for new investigation

Jenny Wilson: "The fire department has not done one thing in a matter of integrity or to honor Stan or even to prevent another firefighter's death."

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Jenny Wilson has no recourse.

Her attorney says she can’t file a lawsuit for the May 20, 2013, line-of-duty death of her husband, Dallas firefighter Stanley Wilson. She can’t compel fire officials to testify about an alleged cover-up of investigative details. She can’t force the changes she wants to see in the fire department.

But, she said Tuesday, she’s “not going to go away.”

“In my opinion, the fire department has not done one thing in a matter of integrity or to honor Stan or even to prevent another firefighter’s death,” she said.

Donning a red “Stand Up for Stan” T-shirt and surrounded by members of her family, Jenny Wilson said Tuesday at her attorney’s office that she will continue to push for changes to the fire department — especially the recording of fire ground communications. She also asked that Mayor Mike Rawlings and the City Council push for an independent investigation into Wilson’s death and the department’s culture.

Rawlings said in a written statement through a spokesman that Wilson’s death “was a terrible tragedy for our city.” He said he would check in with the city manager’s office about changes made in light of the investigations, including fire ground recording.

“We must do everything possible to ensure that no other family suffers the pain that the Wilson family has endured these past two years,” Rawlings said.

Disputed accounts
Stanley Wilson, 51, was fatally crushed inside a collapsing condo during a far northeast Dallas blaze that reached six alarms. His death prompted strife within the department, and fire officials stayed mostly mum about the findings of an internal investigation.

Jenny Wilson eventually vented her frustrations with the lack of answers and hired Arlington lawyer Barry Hasten to help her get the report.

Dallas Fire-Rescue finally released its official 111-page line-of-duty-death report in September 2014. The investigation blamed miscommunication and confusion and faulted commanders for not taking control at the scene.

The report also gave disputed accounts about a deputy chief’s fateful orders that day. Surviving members of Wilson’s team said the fire scene commander, Bobby Ross, ordered them to search inside the collapsing structure long after it was safe to do so and long after anyone had been pulled out. He said he didn’t.

Fire Chief Louie Bright III declined to discipline Ross or anyone else. He vowed to work to fix issues that caused Wilson’s death.

Weeks later, The Dallas Morning News obtained a 703-page draft report through the Public Information Act. The longer report was far more critical of Ross. It noted that other firefighters thought Ross’ explanation was nonsensical. The report also cited a “culture of indifference” among firefighters to policies and procedures at the fire department.

Ross was moved out of fire command days after the report’s release. He later retired.

Hasten said the fire department “covered up” the lengthier report to protect fire commanders.

“I get the impression that as it relates to Stan’s case, protecting jobs was more important than protecting lives,” Hasten said.

He lamented that state law won’t allow him to file a lawsuit because Wilson was a city employee who died on duty. He said a lawsuit wouldn’t be about money, however; he and Jenny Wilson would like to put fire commanders under oath.

“We had hoped that we could bring a lawsuit, if nothing else to expose the people that allow this culture of indifference to exist unchecked and to bring about much-needed change,” he said.

Denying a cover-up
Lt. Joel Lavender, a fire department spokesman, denied Hasten’s allegations of a cover-up Tuesday, calling them “salacious.”

Lavender said that the department has been “transparent since the beginning.” He said the report was cut down for repetition and to strip it of opinions. He said the department has “nothing to hide” and noted that federal and state authorities also investigated Wilson’s death.

“We are pretty transparent in everything we say and do,” he said.

Lavender’s boss, Bright, did not take questions at a news conference after Wilson’s death and has declined interview requests.

Jenny Wilson said she didn’t want to have to file a lawsuit. But she said she wants to keep fighting for changes, “most of all, so this doesn’t ever happen to another family in the Dallas fire department.”

Fire and city officials have been working to boost command training and have developed a prototype to record fire ground communications. The recording had been suggested after a previous Dallas Fire-Rescue line-of-duty death, but was never implemented.

Lavender said the prototype is “ongoing.” He declined to elaborate.

Jenny Wilson said the recording would prevent more he-said, he-said situations, like the conflicting stories that came from Ross and Wilson’s crew.

Lavender said the department would become better through the lessons from Wilson’s death. He said he apologizes for what his widow is going through.

“She’s still part of our fire department family," he said. “What we do in our training, the legacy that Stan left, we’re going to make his legacy save lives.”

Copyright 2015 The Dallas Morning News
All Rights Reserved

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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