• Mr. Speaker, on May 31, 2013, Houston Fire Department suffered its most tragic event in its history. Four of Houston's bravest firefighters died in the line of duty, fighting a 5-alarm blaze at a hotel in southwest Houston:
  • Captain EMT Matthew Renaud, 35, of Station 51;
  • Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee, 41, of Station 51;
  • Firefighter EMT Robert Garner, 29, of Station 68;
  • Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan, 24, of Station 68.
  • They were the best we had in Houston, and we are still saddened that they are gone.
  • The hotel's hellish inferno claimed the lives of these four firefighters and injured fourteen other firefighters when the roof collapsed--some critically. One of the brave who survived was Captain William Dowling, also known as ``Iron Bill.''
  • Iron Bill was injured serving Houston, the community in which he was raised. A graduate of Klein Oak High School, Captain Dowling left Texas to serve his nation as an enlistee with the United States Marine Corps. In 1993, on leave from Marine boot camp training, he married his high school sweetheart--Jacki. As a Marine, Iron Bill served 4 years, including a deployment to Somalia with I Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation Restore Hope, 1995. He returned home to Texas and to Jacki to begin his career and to start a family. Twenty-one years later, Captain Dowling and Jacki have three children: Forrest, Faith and Foster.
  • Iron Bill's patriotic spirit and love of the community led him to join the Houston Fire Department. He graduated from the Houston Fire Department Academy in 2000 and steadily rose through the ranks. He worked at Stations 12, 19, and 48 before making Captain at Station 68 in January of 2013. Firehouse 68 is located at the corner of Bissonnet and South Gessner in the ``heart of Southwest Houston''. In 2013, the fire apparatus of Firehouse 68 made 14,847 responses, making it the third busiest fire station in the City of Houston. There, at Firehouse 68, Captain Dowling became known as ``Iron Bill,'' a fitting nickname to describe a strong and courageous hero.
  • It was just five months after he arrived at Station 68 that Captain Dowling and fellow firefighters received an alarm call that would take them to the gates of hell.
  • On that fateful day, in the heat of the Texas noonday sun, Captain Dowling along with the four other firefighters rushed into the hotel to find potential trapped guests. While the firefighters were in the hotel, the roof collapsed, trapping and killing Garner and Sullivan from Station 68 and Bebee and Renaud from Station 51. Captain Dowling's legs were crushed and burned, but he remained calm, radioed for help and waited for his brothers to pull him from the flames.
  • The attending physician in the ambulance said that Captain Dowling, though severely injured, kept asking about the condition of his crew. He was more concerned for the safety of others than himself--the testament of a true hero. He told the doctor, on the way to the hospital, to tell his wife and children that he would fight for them. Hearing this comes as no surprise to Captain Dowling's family: they know him as a fighter.
  • Captain Dowling was seriously injured with burns over thirty percent of his body, and he was placed in a medically induced coma for months at Memorial Hermann Hospital and Medical Center. He subsequently had both legs amputated and suffered brain damage. A long road of recovery was ahead for Captain Dowling, but surrounded by a team of doctors, his family, firefighter family, friends, church and the entire city and state of Texas, Iron Bill was not alone. Deservingly, Captain Dowling became everyone's hero.
  • Finally, six months after the fire, Captain Dowling left the hospital and went home, riding in Station 68's newly dedicated fire truck. Of course, he sat in the Captain's Chair. Along the drive home, he was greeted by firefighters and members of the community, who lined the streets and highways from the Texas Medical Center to Tomball.
  • Since returning home, Jacki left her full time job at Frank Elementary to care for her husband full time. It's no surprise that as a Texas woman, she's strong and determined, but quite simply, the strength that she possesses is amazing. To keep the community updated on Iron Bill, she started blogging on a community Facebook page (entitled ``Capt. William Dowling Iron Bill''). This blog allows the community to rally behind the Dowling family: cry with them, laugh with them, pray for them and see their hero survive.
  • In the last year, Captain Dowling has received a customized fire tank chair. It's an ATV-like wheelchair, and he loves driving it! At home, Houston Texans' JJ Watt visited Iron Bill and presented him with a Houston Texans' jersey with the #68 proudly displayed. Captain Dowling loves to sing and play guitar--from Bon Jovi to Third Day--and Texas Country music star, Cory Morrow, played for him when he was in the hospital. He was even able to travel to San Diego to see his son Private Forrest Dowling follow in his footsteps and graduate from the Marine Corps' Recruit Training. When Private Forrest Dowling held his newly earned Eagle, Globe and Anchor in the palm of his hand with pride after completing the Crucible, April 17, 2013, Forrest said that the main reason he decided to sign the dotted line and become a Marine, was because of his dad. He said my dad was a Marine and always wanted me to become a Marine as well, so it's what I set out to do. Despite his amazing progress, Captain Dowling has had his share of challenges. His pain is debilitating--so much so that Jacki cried out for help and prayers that he could be seen by a team of experts who had experience with traumatic amputations. She had heard of the work of the team at Brooke's Army Medical Center, which operates the only DOD Burn Center, at Fort Sam Houston and set out to work to get him admitted. The community rallied, launching a change.org petition, emailing and calling BAMC and reaching out to my office. It's rarely talked about, but most Congressional offices spend the majority of their time on ``casework,'' offering constituents help with a federal department or agency.
  • Within a matter of hours, Brooke's Army Medical Center deemed Captain Dowling admissible, saying they are honored to receive him and that he would be embraced by fellow Marines. Once the appropriate medical records were transferred, an ambulance transported Iron Bill from St. Luke's Hospital to Brooke's Army Medical Center for further treatment.
  • As Iron Bill gets the medical care that he needs, I hope he knows the community of Tomball and the greater Houston area and, of course, Texas' Second District eagerly awaits his return home. When that happens, I hope we line the streets and cheer for him once again. For our community will always be grateful for his service and sacrifices. Once a hero, always a hero.
  • And that's just the way it is.