Walter Bratton Broke The Color Line At The Ontario Fire Department In 1975

Walter Bratton, the homegrown kid who went on to shatter the color line at the Ontario Fire Department and then innovated to create the first video ministry for, and become the longest serving deacon at, Ontario Mt. Zion Church, has died.
A paradoxically quiet drum-beating member of the Ontario business and social community, Bratton lost the use of his voice three years ago as the consequence of his bout with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. That disease ultimately took his life but did not arrest his intensity nor diminish his dignity.
Born on November 3, 1951 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, he moved with his parents, James Lawrence and Elvenia Steele Bratton, and his one sister who had been born at that point to California when he was four years old. The Bratton family settled in Ontario, becoming parishioners at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and James established a sole proprietorship janitorial business, JL Bratton & Company.
Walter attended Grove Elementary, Euclid Elementary and De Anza Junior High.
As a teen, he worked with his father, assisting him several hours a week as he made his rounds at the various Ontario industrial and commercial institutions where JL Bratton & Company had contracts, including with General Electric, Ontario Airport, the Koll Company, Berry Construction and other smaller businesses. This assistance allowed his father to expand his operation beyond Ontario to pick up more lucrative contracts, including major construction site clean ups such as the construction then ongoing at UC Irvine. The father and son also moonlighted as sky caps at the Ontario Airport Terminal. With the money he earned, Walter long before reaching the age of majority purchased his first motorcycle, car and drum set.
Walter had begun high school in 1966, attending 9th grade at Chaffey High School while the building of Ontario High School was completed. In September 1967, Walter was one of the roughly 650-member maiden student body, consisting of freshman, sophomores and juniors but no seniors, to attend Ontario High School, the campus for which was on Francis Street, much closer to the Bratton home than Chaffey. At Ontario High, he played varsity football as a running back with the Jaguars under Coach Doug Brooks, and varsity baseball for Tom McFadden. After his sophomore year in 1967-68, his junior year in 1968-69, he graduated with the Class of 1970.
Walter attended Chaffey College where he continued to play football, and earned his associate of arts degree. He thereafter resolved to become a licensed commercial pilot, and was taking flight lessons at Cable Airport in Upland and aviation classes at Chino Airport. When he was accepted at DeVry University in Phoenix, Arizona, he left California to attend classes there. He worked toward and received his degree in electronics at DeVry, simultaneously working with United Parcel Service. It was at UPS that he met his future wife, Marilyn Chase.
In 1974, Walter returned to Ontario. His father had striven to cultivate a position of standing within the Ontario community by enlisting JL Bratton & Company in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, becoming a member of the United Way board of directors and involving himself in supporting the city council candidacy of Paul Treadway and the mayoral candidacy of Paul Snider. Tuned in to what was happening at the civic level, James Bratton heard that the Ontario Fire Department was hiring a new firefighter, and he insisted that Walter go to Ontario City Hall and fill out an application for the position. Walter was accepted as a candidate in training, and on February 2, 1975, after graduating from the city’s fire academy, became the first black firefighter hired by the Ontario Fire Department. Later that same year, his girlfriend Marilyn moved from Phoenix to Ontario.
Walter and Marilyn married in 1979. They had six children: Marlon, Marcus, Walter, Aaron, Marlindy & Ashley.
In 1986, Walter was the second Bratton selected to serve on the Greater Ontario Leadership Development Program, known by its acronym GOLD, initiated through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Later, Walter served with his sister on the steering committee for the GOLD Program.
Walter was prompted to learn to ski by several of his firefighting colleagues. He became an avid skier and imparted the skill to his children, and then later, snowboarding as well. In turn, his sons taught him how to play golf.
Like his father, Walter was both versatile and energetic in his business endeavors. He managed residential property that his parents owned around Ontario for over 40 years. In other business ventures, he was a “silent partner” in his sisters’ janitorial company, his sisters’ hair replacement salon in Hollywood and his wife’s wig & hair extension business in Ontario.
Walter’s greatest genius may have been his ability to balance his work life with his family obligations. Walter and Marilyn would take their brood on family vacations meant to create elaborate learning environments and lasting memories. Major holidays in the Bratton household were all about his family and his blessings. Throughout the years, his kids’ admiration for him made Father’s Day another Christmas and his birthday practically a National Holiday.
On August 14, 1988 Walter was promoted, becoming the first African-American fire captain for the City of Ontario. A few years later, he passed the test for promotion to battalion chief, but a battalion chief vacancy never came open before his exam results expired.
Walter donated and volunteered his many talents, skills, and finances for the benefit of Mt. Zion Church of Ontario, and its extended community. Walter had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal lord and savior at a young age and was baptized by Pastor Robert Young. His Christian faith was core to his identity and his active membership in the Mt. Zion Congregation was a visible manifestation of that. Walter was introduced to the Bill Gothard Institute in Basic Life Principles Seminar through the Ontario Fire Department in 1977. Over the next 21 years, he repeatedly coordinated large group attendance to the seminar for his Mt. Zion Church family. He became a team teacher in the Evangelism Movement, endeavoring to win as many souls to Christ as possible before his time on earth ran out. He played the drums for the Mt. Zion senior choir under Pastor Alvin J. Carter. With Marilyn, he started the first video ministry at Mt. Zion under Dr. Brian Kennedy. Walter taught Sunday School, served on the trustee board, and had the honor of being the longest serving deacon at Mt. Zion Church of Ontario.
On December 23, 2006, 41 days shy of 32 years with the Ontario Fire Department, Captain Walter G. Bratton retired, taking his “last ride” with full salute and honor from his Fire Station Six engine crew. After retirement, Walter voluntarily served another 15 years as a chaplain for the Ontario Fire Department.
During “retirement” Walter earned his commercial driver’s license in order to work for his son Marcus’s trucking company driving diesel trucks.
Walter loved to play the game of dominoes and engage in the interests of others. Walter especially adored all conversations around current events and debating politics. After their kids were grown, Walter and Marilyn became inveterate cruise line travelers.
Walter was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2018. It is believed, though not empirically established, that his ALS had resulted from toxic exposure he experienced while serving as a firefighter with the City of Ontario. Five other Ontario firemen who were on the department during the era he was there have passed away while suffering with ALS.
The amyotrophic lateral sclerosis took his voice and limited his mobility, but not his will or sense of humor or ability to communicate in writing. He strove to remain active. His children arranged last year for a family cruise to Ensenada in Baja California for his 70th and last earthly birthday. Walter expressed his joy and thankfulness for the quality time with his family by writing a note which read: “This was my best birthday ever.”
Before his passing, Walter’s children established the Captain Walter G. Bratton Foundation. As a spiritual leader, visionary, and emergency first responder with a heart of gold, Walter himself picked his foundation’s logo and mission of giving back to local families and youth in need in the Ontario community he served.
Floyd Clark, Ontario’s first African-American fire chief and now retired, told the Sentinel, “I first met Walter in July of 1986.  On that day, Walter was wearing his work uniform, which consisted of a powder blue shirt. What stood out to me was that Walter wore a little cross on the upper right hand side of his uniform. I had just gotten out of the military, and only chaplains were allowed to wear the cross on their work uniforms. So, I asked Walter if he was one of the chaplains for the department. Walter told me he was not a chaplain for the department, but he simply loved Jesus and that this was his way of letting anyone he came in contact with know that he was a man of faith. With my military background, I thought it was great that the department would allow him to wear the cross on his uniform in order to express his faith. Later, I came to learn that the department hadn’t really allowed personnel to wear the cross on their work uniform, but it was more about the way Walter interpreted his freedom, even while in uniform. I thought I loved this country and had demonstrated that by serving eight years in the United States Air Force as a firefighter. I would learn that no one on the Ontario Fire Department loved this country more than Walter Bratton. There is no doubt in my mind that out of love for country and staunch respect for the Constitution, it is safe to say that Walter was a man of law and a respecter of persons. As a firefighter, Walter was given the opportunity to do what he loved most, and that was the service of others. When one thinks of humility, dedication and service we could look at Walter to see how that is done.”
Clark said that Bratton had invited him to attend Mt Zion Baptist Church in Ontario.
“I, too, became a member and remain until this day,” said Clark. “He had a way of making you feel comfortable and welcome not because of who you were but because of who he was. As a humble servant of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I can hear him encouraging someone today to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Sometime during my first year on the department Walter introduced me to another group called Firefighters for Christ. This is a group that take service to the next level. While having this unique opportunity to serve, it’s more than just having a job. We learned that we needed to do all that we can to help others. Being given the chance to respond to people when they dialed 911 because something has gone wrong in their lives sometimes opens a door to show real care and concern for our fellow man.”
Clark said, “Speaking of doors, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Walter Bratton for the doors that he opened for me as a firefighter. His laughter, keen sense of humor and overall ability to change the tone of the environment made him a person that made people feel comfortable when around him. As an environment changer, he helped those 24-hour shift days pass by. He’d look up, smile, and say, ‘Didn’t we have fun at work today?’”
Clark said, “I know that it was a joy and honor for Walter to serve the citizens of the City of Ontario. He would always show reverence and respect to any and everyone he would come in contact with. He wore his uniform proudly and when he was promoted to captain everyone knew that it was a glorious time for the Bratton name. Walter was respected in this community. It wasn’t just about him but the legacy that he was creating. His time in history will be treasured by firefighters because he embodied the true meaning of service. His time and service has given us as a community a standard to strive for. As a brother in Christ, one who had clearly decided to enter the narrow gate and walked along the narrow path that is not popular today, he carried on by attempting to walk through the doors that he has opened along the path of service. Thanks to Walter, the door is open and the path is clear. With this history in mind how will we answer the 911 call?”
Captain Walter Green Bratton passed away in Ontario on February 13, 2022. He was preceded in death by his infant son Tyrone, parents James Lawrence and Elvenia Bratton, his in-laws Albert (A.C.) and Laverne Livingston Chase, grandparents, and a host of aunts and uncles.
Walter is survived by his wife of 42 years, Marilyn Bratton; and his four sons: Marlon Bratton and his wife Dolly of Eastvale; Marcus Bratton and his wife Catherine of Ontario; Walter Albert Bratton and his wife Eva of Eastvale; Aaron Bratton, Esquire, of Ontario; and his two daughters: Marlindy Douglas and her husband Rama of Pasadena; Ashley Jerry and her husband Justin of Rialto; his niece/quasi-daughter, Dr. Cherina Betters of Highland; sisters: Geraldine Watson,  Barbara Bratton, and Brenda Orea and her husband Charlie of Rancho Cucamonga; grandchildren: Marcus Bratton Jr. and his wife Julia, Elijah Bratton, Jasmine Jackson, Joseph Bratton, Caleigh Bratton, Kaleb Bratton, Kaden Bratton, Ezra Douglas, Isaiah Douglas, Ariah Jerry, Alana Jerry, and Amara Douglas and aunts Mamie Bratton of New York, Mary Bratton of, Bloomington, California and Tewanee Bratton of Georgia. Special acknowledgment is given to those who had the honor to call him Dad: Andy Perez; and Granddad: Jordan Jerry. and a host of special cousins, in-laws, nieces, nephews, church family and friends.

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