DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Behind the smoke… behind the fire… there was confusion, flawed communications and a sense that things were getting out of control.
That is the picture drawn by internal documents and an audiotape obtained exclusively by the CBS 11 I-Team, describing a 2013 apartment fire that killed Dallas firefighter Stan Wilson.
Wilson, a 28-year-old veteran of Dallas Fire and Rescue, died May 20 when the burning building collapsed on him as he and fellow firefighters searched one last time for anyone still inside.
An I-Team investigation has found that the search came more than two hours after the fire had started, and that powerful aerial ladder pipes were, at the time, continuing to pound water onto the top of the building.
Firefighting experts have told CBS 11 those "master streams" should have been turned off because of the risk of a collapse – a risk that became even greater because the fire had been going on for more than two hours when Wilson and the others went inside.
Now, the I-Team has obtained internal fire department records and a tape recording that shows a continuing dispute on who actually ordered the firefighters back into the burning apartment complex.
"He told me to search the first floor because they were still pulling people out …and that it hadn't been entirely searched," Dallas Battalion Chief George Tomasovic is overheard saying in a recording of a fire department meeting, called to discuss how firefighters responded and fought the fire.
Tomasovic, Wilson and several other firefighters went back into the blaze, searching – to no avail – for anyone else who may have still been in the building. Like Wilson, Tomasovic was trapped during the collapse, but escaped after he was pulled from his boots, which were pinned in the debris.
The battalion chief declined an interview with the I-Team.
In the recording, he is overheard saying that it was Deputy Chief Bobby Ross who gave the order to go back inside – something Ross quickly denied.
"That's the problem …what I wanted you to do, and what you did, are totally different," Ross is overheard saying. Ross told others in the meeting that, instead, he only wanted Tomasovic, Wilson and the rest of their crew to take their firefighting tools, known as "pike poles," and break out windows so they could shout for anyone still inside the burning building.
"I want(ed) you to breach the balcony windows …so we can give these people (a warning) …'Hey, it's now or never, come out now,'" Ross is overheard telling Tomasovic.
"That's not what you said," Tomasovic countered. "You said take truck 53 and search the first floor …If you had told me to take pike poles and smash in windows to do a search …that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he is overheard saying in the recording.
Ross declined an interview with the I-Team. In an email, the fire department said, "Chief Ross has no desire to speak, communicate, discuss or have any communications with Jack, Ginger or any media person on any subject."
Dallas Fire Chief Louie Bright also declined an interview request.
The I-Team has been investigating the fire from the beginning, drawing an outpouring of support from Dallas firefighters, as well as from friends and members of Wilson's family who say they want answers to their questions about what happened that day.
Those answers will come, the department's chain of command has promised, but only after the completion of a formal investigation, which a spokesman said might still be months away.
If you want to reach CBS 11′s Senior Investigative Producer Jack Douglas Jr., you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to reach CBS 11′s Investigative reporter Ginger Allen, you can email her at email@example.com.
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