It's a day Capt. William Dowling's family has been waiting for, and it was an emotional one. His colleagues paid tribute to him as he left the hospital, clapping and saluting him as he headed home.
They call him Iron Bill, and for the first time since May, Capt. Dowling was hoisted into the front seat of Engine 68.
"That's his fire truck. He's gonna sit in his captain's chair, possibly for the last time. He said that's what he wanted. He didn't want to ride in his Jeep, he didn't want to ride in the chief's car; he wanted to ride in his fire truck," his brother, John Dowling, said.
On May 31, Capt. Dowling was injured while fighting a massive motel fire along the Southwest Freeway. He lost both legs after they were pinned beneath burning debris.
"There were dozens of acts of heroism that took place that day, and our firefighters got Bill out of that situation and gave him the first chance of survival," HFD Fire Chief Terry Garrison said.
At Station 68, Capt. Dowling's colleagues are eager to have him back, if not to work then to speak again, laughing, reminiscing, healing.
"I think that's the one thing that I know we most look forward to because he's such a funny guy, and it means so much to us," Senior Capt. Kelly Baudat said.
The Dowlings say this Thanksgiving, they are most thankful for this special homecoming. They're also mindful of four other firefighters' families who won't get one.
"Four other families lost their children. I'm no better than they are. But somehow, in God's providence, he let William live. So, we'll see what God has in store for him," Dowling's father, Rickie Dowling, said.
The procession traveled along Highway 288 then north on I-45, all the way to Capt. Dowling's house, where close family and friends were throwing him a welcome home party. At one point, officials pulled over on the highway and transported Dowling from the fire truck into an ambulance, where he could lie down and rest for the remainder of the drive home.
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