HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston Fire Department captain who spent months in the hospital after battling a massive fire that killed four colleagues went home Wednesday, just in time to join his family for Thanksgiving.
Bill Dowling was released from Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center to the cheers of firefighters, family, friends and medical personnel.
Dowling suffered severe burns, some brain damage and his legs had to be amputated after the May fire. In a wheelchair, Dowling left the hospital accompanied by his wife and children and was loaded onto the passenger seat of his old fire truck.
Dowling, a father of three children, had been set to be taken home in the fire truck. But during the more than 30 mile trip home to the northern Houston suburb of Tomball, Dowling was switched to an ambulance because it provided a more comfortable ride, fire department officials said.
During his trip home, fire trucks from Houston and neighboring communities, as well as residents lined freeways and streets in honor of Dowling. When he finally arrived at his home, firefighters lined his driveway and saluted him as he was wheeled in on a stretcher.
"For six months, we have held vigil and prayed that this day would come," Jacki Dowling, his wife, said in a statement. "A new chapter of our lives begins today. We chose only to look forward and rejoice in what the future has in store for us. Let our journey begin."
Dowling, nicknamed "Iron Bill," had been hospitalized since being injured in the May 31 fire at the Southwest Inn. He had entered the motel when the heavy, tile roof collapsed, trapping Dowling underneath the rubble.
"Our firefighters got Bill out of that situation and gave him the first chance of survival," Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison said Wednesday. "Captain Iron Bill, he didn't surprise me. He didn't surprise me."
Killed in the fire were Capt. Matthew Renaud, 35; engineer operator Robert Bebee, 41; firefighter Robert Garner, 29; and Anne Sullivan, 24, a probationary firefighter.
Besides Dowling, 12 other firefighters were injured in the blaze.
The fire was the single worst loss of life experienced by the Houston Fire Department in its 118-year history.
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