Draft of Dallas LODD report more critical than official version

The draft criticizes Deputy Chief Bobby Ross' decision to send firefighters into the apartment complex; it also slams the department's sloppiness on scene

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — A 703-page draft of the Dallas Fire-Rescue line-of-duty death report on Stanley Wilson is far more critical of Deputy Chief Bobby Ross than the official — and drastically pared-down — version released by the department weeks ago.

The draft, obtained Wednesday through a public information request, repeatedly takes Ross to task for a highly criticized decision to send firefighters anywhere near a burning apartment building long after it was safe to do so. The unofficial version also slams the department’s general sloppiness at the fire scene.

The draft’s release raises questions anew about how Chief Louie Bright III could shut down any further inquiry into Wilson’s May 20, 2013, death at a far northeast Dallas condominium complex. He decided not to discipline anyone then with the simple declaration: “No one person bears all responsibility.”

Bright has declined several interview requests to discuss the matter since the September release of the 111-page official report.

But the draft version showers plenty of blame on Ross, a 30-year veteran of the department. Fire personnel at the scene told investigators that Ross ordered firefighters, including Wilson, inside the partially collapsed burning building after they had pounded it with tons of water each minute from powerful aerial water hoses.

But Ross told investigators that he merely directed the firefighters to walk around the building’s exterior and knock out windows with pike poles. He said he hoped the sound of breaking glass would rouse anyone still inside the building, which by then had been burning for more than two hours. The operations had long since gone to defensive mode. No one had been pulled out of the burning building for an hour.

“The likelihood of anybody still being alive if they were in fact still inside the building for any reason has been decreasing rapidly after the attack mode was changed from offensive to defensive,” the report states. If Ross believed nobody had already searched the building, “knocking on the windows would not have served as a primary search,” investigators said.

When Section Chief George Tomasovic arrived well into the fire, he said, Ross told him to don his firefighting gear. He did so. Then he said Ross ordered him to get a crew and conduct a “quick search” because they were still pulling people out of the building.

“I assume there are still people in there,” Tomasovic told investigators in a recorded interview. “Like I said, I just arrived on the fire scene. I don’t know what took place before that.”

Tomasovic said he saw the aerial hoses spraying and asked a captain to shut one of them off. He said he was concerned that the building could collapse.

Within minutes, it did.

“It came down fast and heavy,” Tomasovic said. “I started getting beat up and next thing I remember, I was inside the apartment on my side with debris covering my legs.”

Other firefighters pulled Tomasovic to safety. But Wilson lay a few feet away, crushed to death. His body was found hours later.

Investigators appeared puzzled by Ross’ version of his order. The report states, “no one at the fire scene can recall this being used as a tactic at any previous fires.”

They wrote that Ross, who was calling the shots at the six-alarm blaze, was the only person at the massive scene who believed people were still inside the building.

Ross didn’t ask any supervisors their opinion on whether to send firefighters to break patio doors, according to the draft report. Investigators also pointed out that Ross said he “doesn’t go into detail with his battalion chiefs, yet in this case, he issues a very specific and detailed order” to Tomasovic.

“It is unclear to the investigative team what objective DC Ross would have fulfilled, if the order to knock on the patio doors was completed,” the report states. “If SC Tomasovic had found a fire company and had knocked on the glass patio doors and there was no response, someone could have still been inside asleep, overcome or unable to save themselves.”

The investigators also questioned why Ross didn’t rescind the order to Tomasovic when a captain told him minutes later on the radio that the building had already been searched.

And the report said investigators were “concerned” that Ross didn’t seem to know he had the authority to make people evacuate an adjacent building at risk of catching fire.

While Bright said in September that firefighters are given latitude to question and clarify orders, he moved Ross out of fire command the week after the release of the official report. Ross now works in a staff job.

The Dallas Fire Fighters Association announced that some of the firefighters at the scene would ask for a further investigation into whether Ross lied about orders he gave that led to Wilson’s death. The Black Fire Fighters Association, meanwhile, asked commanders to look into whether firefighters lied about Ross’ order.

City officials have said any complaints weren’t filed within a 10-day deadline. They say fire officials are working with the associations to improve the department.

The draft report also faulted “cultural indifference to policies, rules, tactics and manual of procedures.” And the report slammed the way line-of-duty death investigations are conducted, saying the “current expectations, guidelines, goals, timelines and allocation of resources are outdated and vague at best.”

Fire department spokesman Lt. Joel Lavender said the larger draft report was finished sometime in the third quarter of this year. He said Bright read the report when it was completed. After that, Assistant Chief Daniel Salazar was added to the investigative team to help create the smaller official, or “final report.” That report was released in September.

Lavender said that the voluminous draft version now in circulation was chopped down to eliminate repetitiveness. Several photographs and the investigators’ opinions also didn’t make the final cut.

“There is a difference between fact and opinion,” Lavender said. “The final report is based on fact.”

AT A GLANCE: Draft findings
Paint stick, used to indicate when a building has been searched, was not used properly.

Designated “fire safety officers” at the scene did not wear required green helmets, causing confusion for firefighters.

Investigators said Ross was supervising too many people, making the situation harder to control.

A lieutenant said the urban search and rescue team should have been notified if anyone was going near the building so it could be on high alert.

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