Dallas firefighters are honoring the life of the man who broke the department’s color barrier.
Kenneth Parker became Dallas Fire-Rescue’s first black firefighter in 1969 after the federal government mandated that the city hire black firefighters. He passed away Tuesday from heart failure at the age of 70.
Those who knew him say the 29-year veteran’s legacy is still felt today. He fought through racial challenges and was even fired twice in what Calvin Berry, DFR’s second black firefighter, said were racially-motivated incidents. He later sued and received back pay from the department.
His fight paved the way for black firefighters in fire stations across the city. He served as mentors for young firefighters and showed them how to find their way in a world that they had only recently been let in to.
“He was the trailblazer, the one who started it for those behind him, myself included,” 39-year veteran firefighter James Hill said.
Now the department chief is black, something that would have seemed inconceivable when Parker first started out.
“When I hear of a chief from a fire department being African-American, I go ‘wow!’” Berry said.
A mural now hangs in Station 27, honoring Parker and the lives he touched.
“He impacted a lot of lives,” Berry said. “A lot of lives.”