Burn Baby Burn

Firefighter Sherrie Wilson rakes the department's muck.
Mark Graham

Last fall at a fire conference in Houston, Dallas Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Michael Price allegedly yelled at a woman to show us your tits during a skit. His colleagues would later tell department internal affairs investigators that they were startled, mortified and embarrassed by his remark. They also said that at various points during the convention he had appeared drunk, badgered the hotel staff, belittled a waitress and talked about going to a strip club.

For his assorted misadventures, the 53-year-old Price received no formal punishment from the department other than a letter of counseling, which is basically a mild warning. Now, however, he is suing the woman who exposed his frat-boy behavior in a gossipy fire hall newsletter called the Fire Rescue Poop Sheet.

Sherrie Wilson, Dallas first female firefighter and now a formal, if long-shot, candidate to fill the open fire chief position, resuscitated a long-dormant newsletter in November 2004, shortly after Price returned from Houston. Price had been her supervisor for two and a half years, during which the two clashed over her administrative duties. Wilson claims that she did not publish the newsletter to exact revenge on her former boss, but the effect was the same. In the comeback issue of the newsletter, she broke the news of the deputys boozing while belittling him in a poem titled I Am Deputy. City trips with me are real embarrassing. When I drink too much I scream insanities, she wrote in the newsletter that was sent to all 55 of Dallas fire stations. This exercise in power makes me feel so proud. But the people around me see a big jerk in shroud.

OK, so its not exactly Keats, Dylan or, hell, Stefani. But what Wilson lacks in lyrical acuity, she makes up for with a Drudge-like flair for entertaining, if unsubstantiated, exposs. Without mentioning him by name, Wilson hounded our awesome deputy chief, accusing him of stealing money from fair vendors, bilking the city out of travel money and parking in handicap spots. In April, Price filed a lawsuit alleging that the revelations published by the Poop Sheet caused him shame, embarrassment, humiliation, pain and mental anguish.

Soon after, numerous colleagues say that the deputy chief bragged about his lawsuit against Wilson, claiming that he was going to kick her in the cunt. After the deputy chief filed a complaint against Wilson with the fire department, she replied with one of her own in a letter to the departments internal affairs division. There she claimed that Price himself bragged about his assorted misbehaviors, including being drunk in public, yelling obscenities at a fire conference and making that threatening comment about her. The department investigated Price and corroborated many of Wilsons most damaging accusations. Although the final report on the deputy chief officially did not sustain the accusation that Price was intoxicated while at a conference in Houston, three eyewitnesses more or less portrayed the deputy chief as the second coming of Keith Moon. Mike Price appeared intoxicated and consumed between [six] and ten alcoholic beverages in my presence, said David Martin, a section chief. Martin also said that Price smelled of alcoholic beverages throughout the conference and that he felt compelled to apologize to the conferences organizers because the deputy chiefs behavior was so embarrassing. Martin also added that he and his colleagues made it a point to avoid the ill-behaving Price toward the end of the conference. Price, though, told investigators he was not intoxicated and the charge against him was not sustained because the investigation of this allegation is untimely.

The report did sustain the accusation that Price shouted show us your tits to a woman who was performing a skit. Price told investigators that the skit was modeled after The Jerry Springer Show and so his comment was meant in that context, but several of his colleagues said they were shocked at his remark. I was very embarrassed and asked Mike if he was drunk, said John Ostroski, a hazardous materials coordinator for Dallas Fire-Rescue.

Finally, investigators corroborated the charge that Price told colleagues that he was going to kick Sherrie Wilson in the cunt even though he denied ever saying that. Several witnesses, however, heard him say it. The report concluded that the deputy chief did not mean the remark in the physical sense, but as a sign of confidence about his impending litigation against Wilson. Investigators were not able to corroborate any of Wilsons other allegations, many of which were years old. Still, even in those cases they fleshed out more embarrassing details including his boasts about conning the city out of travel money and his belligerent treatment of the hotel staff. (Neither Price nor his attorney returned calls for comment.)

Wilson says that she was surprised that the department failed to punish Price. I expected them to take this issue seriously just like they would with rank-and-file employees.

The department doesnt exactly defend how it handled Prices behavioral lapses.

The prudent thing to say is that was handled by the previous administration, and they were responsible for the punishment, says Lieutenant Joel Lavender, a spokesman for the department, referring to former Fire Chief Steve Abraira.

Interestingly, internal affairs investigators also found Wilson guilty of using department equipment to distribute her newsletter and of spreading malicious gossip. For this, she also received a letter of counseling, just like the subject of her reporting.

Meanwhile, Prices lawsuit is headed to trial in January. A judge recently denied his motion to have Wilson reveal her sources, ruling that the editor of the newsletter is entitled to the same legal protection as a working journalist. In following issues of her newsletter, Wilson acts like Laura Miller to Prices Ray Hunt, going after him with a gusto that is clearly personal. In the April 2005 edition, Wilson tells a story about how the chief left his checkbook at a local strip club. Bet your wife is proud of you, she wrote about an incident she says happened years ago.

Not surprisingly, Wilsons lawyer has advised her to suspend publication. But Price might want to take care when hes out of town on business. This is not the end of this, vows Wilson. The Poop Sheet is here to stay, and if it happens again we will write about it.

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