Pressure is mounting as, a year after the death of firefighter Stan Wilson, there are no clear answers about why, exactly, he perished in a Lake Highlands apartment complex fire.
The Dallas Morning News this week published an article, along with heart-wrenching photos of and testimony from Wilson’s widow and two children, highlighting the need for city officials including the mayor — who last year publicly called Wilson “a hero” — to press harder for answers about Wilson’s death.
In fact, the Morning News deserves credit for refusing to allow this story to go away, as city and fire department officials might wish it would, publishing multiple items about the incident over the past year.
It happened in the early hours of May 2013. Stan Wilson — a Lake Highlands High School alum and member of Lake Highlands United Methodist, where he led a Boy Scout troop — was part of a team fighting an apartment fire in the 2300 block of Abrams near Richland College.
The inferno was so extreme that first responders had to call for backup. Aid came from as far as the Plano Fire Department. Firefighters reportedly saved several people including a young boy before Wilson died.
Stan’s widow, Jenny, tells the Morning News that though understanding the circumstances of that tragic day won’t necessarily bring peace, it would help her find some semblance of closure. She told them that in an alternate scenario Stan would have fought for the truth.
“If Stan were alive and this had happened to someone else, he would be on the forefront of the battle,” she said. “He wouldn’t have been foolish about it and gotten himself fired. But he would be pushing every button possible.
“Anything that he saw that was borderline, he was there saying, ‘This is not right, and if you can’t fix it, I’ll go above you,’” she said. “And that’s what he’d be doing now.”
The Dallas Morning News quotes a retired Dallas firefighter and friend of Wilson who is pushing every button. He believes the delay is part of a cover-up of a commander’s fatal errors; he says someone in charge sent firefighters back into a smoldering building on the verge of collapse without just reason.
The department denies this allegation.
Last July, the Morning News started requesting and was subsequently denied records related to the incident. At the time, Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans told us the denial was in the interest of clarity—they needed to compile the findings of several agencies before a full picture of what happened that day could be determined.
They did not want to give the public a partial report; the fire also was under investigation as a possible arson, which is how the department has avoided releasing any records.
“The release of the requested information would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime,” wrote the Dallas City Attorney’s office in an appeal to keep records concealed.
They said at the time it would take a month or more to assemble a complete report.
Ten months later, the department/city is still sticking to that reasoning.
The Morning News followed the piece, which you can read in full here, with both an editorial by Jacquielynn Floyd — “are we allowing a fallen hero’s death to be trivialized by cover-your-butt palace politics?” Floyd queries — an additional editorial-board piece, and another blog post about said editorial.
The daily is doing its part to hold Dallas’ city and fire department accountable, which is what good civic journalism is about.