Injured HFD captain's wife talks about recovery

Capt. Bill Dowling was injured in the motel fire that killed four HFD firefighters

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - It has been nearly four months since Houston lost four firefighters who were killed battling a motel fire in southwest Houston.

Thirteen others were injured, including Capt. Bill Dowling.

Hearing Jacki Dowling speak of her husband, Bill, you know real life fairy tales do exist.

"I'd actually never had a boyfriend until him, a real serious relationship, and I just fell in love with his blue eyes," Jacki told Local 2.

The two fell in love after high school. They married and had three children. Bill, a Marine, joined the Houston Fire Department, living and breathing the job he loved.

Then on May 31, the call came.

"I never ever thought this would happen," Jacki recalled. "Once I found out, I just kind of went into shock and it was a whirlwind after that."

Unlike four of his fellow firefighters, Bill made it out alive. But his legs were so badly burned, they had to be amputated. Countless surgeries and skin grafts followed. But every day, there is progress.

"They're small to others, but to us, they're huge. A smile, sticking out your tongue the first time. The first kiss was amazing," Jacki said. "Every little thing is a miracle to me."

This past weekend, Bill was moved to inpatient TIRR Memorial Herman Hospital where he's already begun intense physical, occupational and speech therapy.

"As soon as they got him up and in his chair and started the therapy, it's like he just came alive and he was so relaxed and so happy and he loves it," Jacki said.

Jacki and the kids now rent an apartment in the Texas Medical Center so they can be by Bill's side every day.

She's on leave from her teaching job in Spring.

It's been tough on the entire family, but Jacki remains strong for her family and countless supporters.

Still, there are dark moments.

"I walked into TIRR and I just saw rows and rows of wheelchairs and it was like someone just punched me in the stomach and I was like, 'Wow, this is my husband's wheelchair' and for a second, I did get choked up," she said. "But I just had to take a deep breath like I'm doing right now and walk in there and do my job and take care of him."

Next week, the Dowlings will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.

"I'm going to spend the night in his room and we're going to have a pureed meal…some pureed food or something," said Jacki, "and put on some candles."

When asked what would be the best gift for her, Jacki smiled and answered, "(For) him to be able to talk. I'd love for him to be able to talk to me, just have a conversation... I know it's going to come, so that's what keeps me going."

An "Iron Bill" fundraiser is being organized for the Dowlings' 20th anniversary on September 25.

Firefighters and supporters from around the world are encouraged to join in a special workout challenge in his honor. Click here for more information.

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