Family and friends remember Capt. William “Iron Bill” Dowling as a man who didn’t let injuries stand in the way of a romp outside.
Dowling died Tuesday from complications of injuries he suffered fighting a legendary Houston fire in 2013. He was 43.
A recent transplant, Dowling lived his last six months in Durango, where he moved to improve his quality of life after the incident left him permanently disabled.
“Bill was a super cool guy with a really good sense of humor,” said Ann Marie Meighan, executive director of Adaptive Sports Association, a Durango nonprofit that offers outdoor sports and recreational experiences to people with disabilities. “And he was just game. He just wanted to go for it.”
Meighan said he was gearing up for his first Durango summer, with plans to learn how to raft and, having been an avid wakeboarder before he was injured, water ski.
“Skiing, water skiing, anything speed-related, he wanted to do,” Meighan said.
Dowling learned to ski alongside his family and participated in ASA’s annual Dave Spencer Ski Classic last month.
“I dressed up like a cow for the race, and since I’m pretty new at skiing, I was very intimidated,” said Jackie Dowling, Bill’s wife. “They gave an award for the biggest wipeout and renamed it the ‘cow tipping’ award just for me. Bill was just cracking up at that. That was our last really good memory together.”
Dowling joined the Houston Fire Department in March 2000. His career ended on May 31, 2013, while fighting a five-alarm fire at Houston’s Southwest Inn, which was the deadliest day in Houston Fire Department history, according to the agency.
Four firefighters died in the fire. Dowling lost both legs below the waist after a roof collapsed on him, and oxygen deprivation because of smoke inhalation caused brain damage.
Jackie said her husband reveled in his job.
“When he got his job with the fire department, he knew he’d found the right place,” she said. “He looked forward to going to work. Most people don’t. He and the other firefighters were like brothers, sisters. They were pranksters, kind of immature – which was his personality.”
The couple celebrated their 23rd anniversary in September. They raised three children: Forest, Faith and Foster.
Dowling’s death is considered in the line of duty, and the Houston Fire Department on Friday announced plans to honor him with a hero’s homecoming.
Dowling will be taken from Hood Mortuary in Durango about 8 a.m. today and be driven to the Albuquerque International Sunport. Members of the Durango Fire Protection District and the Durango Police Department will provide an escort.
Dowling will be sent off with honors from the Albuquerque Fire Department and will be received in Houston this evening by the Houston Fire Department.
“The incredible strength and bravery he showed as he and his family rebuilt his life – and theirs – after his injuries inspired us all,” the Houston Fire Department said in a prepared statement.