Capt. Bill Dowling honored at memorial attended by thousands
HOUSTON – Thousands turned out Wednesday to honor and remember a Houston hero: HFD Capt. "Iron Bill" Dowling.
Believing that people were trapped in a fire that engulfed the inn on the Southwest Freeway, Dowling, who was also known as “Iron Bill,” led a rescue attempt during which four fellow firefighters died and 13 others were injured. The fire is considered the deadliest day in HFD’s history.
Dowling’s body arrived Saturday in Houston to full honors. Colleagues saluted and people lined the streets for the procession, which took his body from Hobby Airport to a Tomball funeral home.
His body was escorted to a parking lot in southwest Houston on Wednesday morning, where the casket was transferred from a hearse to a fire engine.
A nearly mile-long line of firefighters marched behind the engine as Dowling’s body was carried to the Morris Cultural Arts Center at Houston Baptist University, where his funeral was held.
About 2,000 people were expected to attend Dowling’s funeral.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called Dowling an inspiration to the city.
“If this room were big enough to hold (all Houstonians), I … believe … all of them would be here,” Turner said.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena, who was recently appointed to the position, said safety must always remain a top priority for his department.
“There’s nothing that we can say here today that will fill the hole in your heart or make you feel complete,” Pena said to Dowling’s family.
Roy McGhee, vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said Dowling’s name will be engraved at the group’s memorial in Colorado Springs, Colorado, alongside the names of his fellow firefighters who died during the 2013 fire.
“You have answered the final bell,” McGhee said. “You have served us well.”
Terry Garrison, who was chief of the Houston Fire Department from 2010 to 2015, also spoke at the memorial service.
Garrison said thanks current, off-duty and retired firefighters who responded to the call during the 2013 fire.
“That’s Houston,” Garrison said. “That’s firefighters.”
Dowling’s widow, Jacki, talked about the day her husband was injured. She recounted the fear, uncertainty and sadness she experienced.
“I was angry and I was so confused,” Jacki Dowling said. “I just didn’t understand it.”
She also spoke about a prayer journal she found in her husband’s bag the day of the fire.
“He loved us so much,” Jacki Dowling said. “The marathon is over now, my love. Take the rest you deserve.”
Members of Station 68, where Capt. Bill Dowling served, also addressed the crowd.
“On the way to the hospital, he told the crew, ‘Tell my wife I’ll fight,” said Matt Moore, an engineer and operator at the station. “And fight he did.”
The service ended with the final alarm bell for Capt. Bill Dowling, a performance of “Amazing Grace” by the department’s pipe-and-drum corps and the playing of “Taps.”
The Dowling family was presented with the flags of both the United States and the city of Houston. They were also presented with medals from the IAFF and Harris County.
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