The late Daniel “Chief” Ware Sr. broke fire department color barrier

Published 12:16 am Friday, February 16, 2024

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ORANGE — Growing up in the 60s and 70s in the south at a time of racial strife, the children of Daniel “Chief” Ware Sr. understood he was doing something special as he moved up the ranks in the fire department as a Black man.

There were barriers for the now deceased Louisiana native and 1963 graduate of MB North High School in Orange. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army as an Army Specialist during the Vietnam War and upon returning home, made the decision to fulfill his dream of becoming a firefighter.

Shantell Ware Cannon, the youngest of his three children, said he passed the required tests and moved up the ranks of the Orange Fire Department.

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After 10 years with the fire department he made the decision to take the civil service examination and became the first African American Battalion Chief at the Orange Fire Department.

“When he got to the point where he wanted to test for Battalion Chief, they came up with a new rule, you have to have a certain amount of time with the department along with passing the test,” Cannon said.

Being in the same house as their parents, Cannon and her siblings overheard their parents talk about issues that weren’t fair, she said, adding they knew it was a really big deal when their dad earned the Battalion Chief rank.

Cannon said he wasn’t able to achieve the next higher rank, as that position became an appointed position by that time.

“Dad had to endure a lot, but he had a lot of good people he worked with,” she said.

Life’s lessons

Ware impressed upon his children Christian values and kindness for their fellow man, principles that he lived himself.

She recalled a story told by her father’s co-workers of how there was a fire in what was thought to be a vacant club, until firefighters heard someone inside. It was a homeless man, who was Black, who was known to do odd jobs and possibly use the money for alcohol.

Her father jumped up on a heap of garbage and reached a tall narrow window, where he put his arm though and was able to grab the man.

Cannon said her father could feel blood dripping from his arm by the broken glass but he kept going until the man was out of the building.

As the man was brought down, the chief, who was White, came around the corner, bent over the man and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

This was in the 60s during all of the racial turmoil.

“In that second, it totally changed his life,” she said. “He was always taught not to judge a person by their appearance but by their character.”

From then he never saw his counterparts as Black firefighters or White firefighters, Black victims or White victims. He was there to protect and serve.

This rang true in the Ware household, where on any given day there could be a mayor, or a homeless person at the dinner table, she said.

“My dad was a big cook. I think everybody in Orange ate at our house,” she said. “We were raised to be kind to others.”

Passing down the legacy

The 1954 poem “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte could be used to positively describe how the Wares were brought up.

On Valentine’s Day, Cannon and her husband drove around Houston and distributed Valentine’s bags to homeless individuals. She picked a nice pink bag and added a cup, bottle of water, some peanuts, fruit and chocolate.

“I know (kindness) comes from my mom and dad,” she said. “We are not the job we have. We are all children of God. No one is better because they are Black or White or where they live.”

Canon previously had a daycare business but that was lost in Hurricane Rita in 2005. She took the chance on a different career path, airline stewardess, and has been at it since then.

She has a sister who is a teacher and a brother who is an entrepreneur.

She said they were taught to work hard, be honest and be kind to others. Cannon’s children are now grown with successful careers.

“We are blessed,” she said.

“Chief” Daniel Ware Sr.

Chief, as he was called, loved to cook and with a birthday that happened around the time of the Super Bowl, so Super Bowl parties were also birthday parties.

Even though the Dallas Cowboys didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, Cannon felt some bittersweet moments with memories of food, laughter and the game.

The same thing happens when gumbo is cooked, she said. She remembers her dad telling her to set some aside for him, she said.

Ware died in April 2021 at the age of 77 and earlier this month Orange Mayor Larry Spears Jr. proclaimed Feb. 2, 2024, as Daniel Joseph Ware Sr. Day in the city.

Canon said the proclamation was originally to be made after his death, then the pandemic occurred along with resurgence the following year, hence the reason the recognition was made this year.

The family keeps his memory and achievements alive and is planning on creating a scholarship in his name by 2025. The scholarship would go to a woman or a minority individual.