Official: Dallas firefighter's widow's request 'too costly'

The city records communications with fire dispatch, but not radio communication on the fireground

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — A Dallas firefighter’s widow has one wish after her husband’s line-of-duty death: fireground radio transmission recording.

But City Manager A.C. Gonzalez said Wednesday that he can’t guarantee that Jenny Wilson will get what she covets because the price tag could end up being too high.

“If it’s something that is very reasonable … why not?” Gonzalez said. “If it’s something that’s very expensive, I’ll have to look at what we are trading off for that — is that the best use of our money?

“In the absence of knowing what that’s going to involve cost-wise, I don’t know if that is something I can say we’re going to do.”

Recording on-scene radio chatter was among the proposals by investigators in light of Stanley Wilson’s death on May 20, 2013, while battling a far northeast Dallas condo blaze. The recordings were also recommended — to no avail — after the 2011 line-of-duty death of Dallas Fire-Rescue Lt. Todd Krodle.

The city records communications with fire dispatch, but not radio communication on the ground among firefighters. It is one of only a few major cities without such communication.

Jenny Wilson said she wants the ground recordings, in part, to sort out conflicting accounts about her husband’s death.

In Stanley Wilson’s case, surviving members of his crew said Deputy Chief Bobby Ross ordered them to search inside the partially collapsed condo building long after anyone had been pulled out. Wilson died when a hallway collapsed on him inside. Ross denied their account, saying he ordered Wilson and other firefighters to break glass patio doors from outside to rouse anyone still inside — an explanation questioned by an investigator.

Fire Chief Louie Bright III declined to discipline Ross or anyone else for their actions that day, and the department declined to reconcile the conflict before Ross retired in January.

Gonzalez said Bright, who was acting fire chief when Krodle died, told him the recording won’t capture everything. He said Bright told him that much of the communication at a fire scene happens face-to-face between firefighters. Ross’ order, whatever it was, was given face-to-face.

“The chief said that even if you have [radio recording], it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to pick up everything that’s said,” Gonzalez said.

But the recording would capture communication between firefighters inside and outside a structure.

And after Krodle’s death, state investigators said the recordings would allow “for better reconstruction of potentially critical events,” and “the ability to chronologically document specific events” for better analysis and training.

Deputy Chief Daniel DeYear wrote in a draft report about Wilson’s death that state and federal investigators told him Dallas is the only fire department they know of that doesn’t record fireground radio chatter.

Mayor Mike Rawlings vowed Tuesday to push fire officials to start recording. His assurance followed a phone conversation with Jenny Wilson that day in which she accused him of parroting fire commanders and said to the mayor, “Everything you just told me is a load of crap.”

At Rawlings’ request, Bright and Gonzalez briefed the mayor on the completed fire investigation before his conversation with Wilson.

Gonzalez said none of the report’s recommendations, which also include training for commanders and new officer positions dedicated to fire scene safety, are off the table.

Jenny Wilson said she is encouraged by Gonzalez’s statement.

“I don’t want to come across as a whiny, demanding person,” she said Wednesday. “I just appreciate the fact that they’re trying to make things right. I just don’t agree with their timeline or their priorities. I hope it’s not lip service, but we’ll see.”

Her lawyer, Barry Hasten, said he is less optimistic.

“Here we are, two years later, and we’re saying, ‘Well, we’ll look into it,’” Hasten said. “To me, to say that ‘Well, you may not record all the conversations’ — it’s sort of a cop-out because then you won’t record any conversations.

“I just want them to do something.”

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