Family, friends gather to mourn fallen Houston firefighter

March 19, 2012 3:13:05 PM PDT
Thousands of mourners gathered Monday morning to say goodbye to a veteran firefighter who died while responding to a fire last week. Senior Captain Thomas "Bill" Dillion had been with the department for more than 20 years.

Along I-10 in Katy, there was a vision of camaraderie to remember Dillion. Thousands of servicemen and women joined the veteran firefighter's friends and family -- including his three children -- to mourn his passing and celebrate his service Monday morning at Second Baptist Church West Campus.

"We honor the family. We honor Senior Captain Bill Dillion. We lift our earnest prayers for him, and we thank you for sharing him," Houston Mayor Annise Parker said.

Dillion was 49 years old. He'd spend 22 years -- nearly half his life -- as a firefighter. Last Wednesday while responding to a kitchen fire at an apartment complex in southwest Houston, he experienced chest pains, collapsed and died.

Dillion, a 22-year veteran of HFD, was assigned to Station 69, but was working a fill-in shift at another station when he died.

"March 14, 2012 was probably one of the hardest days of my life. Because my job was to come talk to you," said Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison.

The HFD chief spoke directly to Dillion's family and retired his badge. Though strong outside, fellow firefighters from Station 69 and beyond were visibly emotionally fragile at the loss of their friend, and man they worked with side by side.

"He was a great man, just always there for everybody. I wish he was still here because I had a lot more to learn a lot from him," said one firefighter.

Those who knew him remember him as bright and motivated, a stellar leader and a firefighter through and through.

"I had two adjectives for Bill -- Teddy bear. A teddy bear he was. Tough exterior outside, but melt in a New York minute. But I called Bill 'friend,' because that's what he was to me," said Pastor Wayne Martin with the Bridge Point Bible Church.

And after sending out a radioed message that reached firefighters across Houston -- a tradition and symbol dating back to the days of the original firefighter -- came the ringing of the bell, a cue to gather your equipment and respond to the call for Sr. Capt. Dillion to his new assignment in heaven.

The Medical Examiner's office is working to determine the exact cause of Dillion's death.