It was a fitting tribute for a Houston hero – an emotional service remembering the life and legacy of former Houston Fire Department Captain William “Iron Bill” Dowling.
Dowling died March 7 in Durango, Colo. He lost both legs and suffered a brain injury after a roof collapsed on him while he was fighting the five-alarm Southwest Inn fire in 2013.
Wednesday started with a procession, followed by kind words from Mayor Sylvester Turner, HFD Chief Samuel Peña and Dowling’s family.
The procession was one last trip for Dowling through the southwest Houston streets he served before a final farewell from more than 2,000 people, both strangers and those who knew him best.
It was a tough service for even some of the toughest firefighters around.
“I love you, brother, and hope to see you on the other side,” said Forrest Dowling, his son.
Dowling was a father their sons said was always there, whether on hunting trips or at their games, even after working a three-day shift.
“He was the proud dad who was always the loudest,” said Foster Dowling, his other son.
Dowling’s wife described him as a family man and a strong Christian.
“He had a prayer journal. I didn’t know he had it,” Jacki Dowling said.
Dowling’s well-known faith became even more evident after he survived the fire.
“Bill asked God to help him reach others, and here we are today, thousands of people, listening to me speak,” Jacki Dowling said.
His former crew praised his bravery as his sense of humor.
“A practical joker with a blank eating grin on his face that would always give him away,” said Capt. Dave Armstrong, one of Dowling’s colleagues.
Dowling, even on the most stressful days, never lost sight of what matters most.
“If only I had a dollar for every time I heard one of their names or heard him talk about one of their games, I would not be worried about my pension,” Capt. Armstrong said.
He was a fallen brother who continues to inspire and serve, even after completing his last assignment on Earth.
Many of the people who spoke today also paid tribute to the four firefighters killed the day of the Southwest Inn Fire.
After the ceremony, Dowling’s family held a private funeral service.
Related: The New Life of Capt. Bill Dowling