By Ann Rowland
The six-alarm fire at a Dallas apartment complex had been burning for over an hour in the early morning hours of May 20, 2013. Firefighters had searched the building twice and found no one inside to rescue. After vacating the structure, firefighters went into “defensive” mode pouring tons of water onto the structure. So why were five Dallas firefighters sent back into the building to search for victims? That is the question at the heart of a LODD investigation into the death of Firefighter Stanley Wilson, a 28 year veteran.
The five firefighters, including Wilson, were sent back into the apartment building which was already weakened by fire and water to search for any survivors. Experts say that finding survivors in a building that had been burning for almost two hours was extremely unlikely. A portion of the building had already collapsed. Wilson never made it out of the building.
CBS Dallas/Fort Worth spoke to a former Dallas firefighter back in September. “What the hell was somebody thinking to send firefighters back in there,” the former firefighter said. “We’re lucky we didn’t lose five firefighters that day.”
Internal fire department documents obtained by CBS Dallas/Fort Worth paint a scene of confusion and a sense that things at the scene of the fire that day were getting out of control. There was also a breakdown in radio communications due to faulty equipment. The documents also point out that aerial ladder pipes continued to pound high pressure water onto the structure while the firefighters went back into search. Experts in fire science say that this is something that is typically done once the building is completely evacuated due to the risk of weakening the structure even further.
CBS also obtained audio tapes from a fire department meeting into the incident and Battalion Chief George Tomasovic can be heard vehemently disagreeing with Deputy Chief Bobby Ross over what Ross exactly ordered the firefighters to do that day. Tomasovic was one of the firefighters sent back into the building and became trapped after the building collapsed. “I see down at the end of the hallway the collapse start. My legs were pinned….I said ‘Just pull me out’. I left my boots there,” Tomasovic says.
Ross was in charge of the scene and Tomasovic told department officials that it was Ross that sent the men back into the fire, a point that Ross has taken issue with. “He told me to search the first floor because they were still pulling people out and it hadn’t been entirely searched,” Tomasovic is heard saying. Other sources have also told CBS that Ross gave the order to go back in.
“That’s the problem. What I wanted you to do and what you did are entirely different…” Ross said. He insists that he wanted the firefighters to breach the balcony windows and give anyone who might still be alive one last opportunity to get out.
“That’s not what you said…..you said take Truck 53 and search the first floor…If you told me to take pike poles and smash in windows to do a search….that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard”, Tomasovic replied.
City, state and national fire investigators are in the process of finishing their final report into this LODD and exactly what happened that day in May. It cannot happen soon enough for the friends and family of Firefighter Wilson.
“This was preventable. No way should this have happened,” Wilson family friend Jim Crump told CBS Dallas/Fort Worth.