Late in the evening on January 5, 2019, Chanaye Brown stopped the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus she was driving to let a passenger board near 79th and Hampton. As she began to pull away from the curb, Chanaye caught sight of flames coming out of a ground-floor window of a darkened apartment building.
A passenger pulled out his cell phone and called 911 as Chanaye notified MCTS dispatchers.
“I’m going to see if I can get somebody’s attention,” Chanaye said as she ran outside. Chanaye pounded on the front door while screaming that there was a fire. Terrified residents, including multiple children, started to evacuate. Most residents didn’t know about the fire until Chanaye arrived.
Chanaye heard the voices of other children who were still inside. She decided to run into the burning apartment unit, where she tried using a resident’s fire extinguisher to put out the fire. Unfortunately, the device was not working properly.
Police officers and firefighters pulled up to the scene moments later and successfully extinguished the fire. No one was hurt. Authorities said the incident is a reminder about the importance of having working smoke detectors.
As part of Fire Prevention Week 2019, officials with the Milwaukee Fire Department commended Chanaye for her actions. On October 10, 2019, she was named “Honorary Chief of the Day.” She then canvassed a neighborhood with firefighters and Red Cross volunteers to check for working smoke detectors, and install new alarms when needed. Later that evening, she was recognized with a Community Hero Award during the department’s annual Meritorious Service Awards Ceremony.
“The Milwaukee Fire Department is proud of the actions and quick thinking of Chanaye Brown, resulting in minimal fire instead of what most likely would have been a full-fledged structure fire,” said Lieutenant Michael Ball, Community Relations Director for the Milwaukee Fire Department. “Because of her actions in calling the fire department first, alerting residents, and attempting to help extinguish the fire, not only was no one hurt, but minimal damage occurred to the building — allowing the rest of the residents to return to their apartments rather than be displaced. We commend Chanaye for her quick and decisive action in stepping up and helping when the situation arose.”
Chanaye said the whole thing happened so quickly, there was little time to think about her actions.
“I wasn’t thinking,” Chanaye said. “When I saw the video of me entering a burning building, I was shocked. I’m raising three kids of my own. When I hear kids in trouble, I act. It made me feel good that I was able to help and provide a good example for my own children.”
Chanaye is a native of Milwaukee and the fourth of 15 children born to Ennis Brown and Janice Dorn. Chanaye said as a child, she and her siblings built and raced go-karts. Chanaye and her siblings continue to do a lot of activities together such as family dinners, fishing and performing karaoke.
In January, Chanaye drove 12 hours one way with her three children, DeAnthony, 11; NayShaun, 10; and Cristina, 8, in order to visit relatives in Arkansas and fulfill a promise to her mother, who was hospitalized and wanted to see her father. She returned to Milwaukee with her grandfather, Curtis Dorn.
“This was something all of my siblings needed,” she said. “We were blessed to be together as a family for Christmas and New Year’s.” Chanaye’s mother died after a long illness on January 4. Chanaye said her mother had a tremendous influence on the direction her life has taken.
“I tried to set myself up to accomplish some goals that my parents could not,” she said. “My mom was always there encouraging us. She always told us to look out for each other. Growing up I saw how she always tried to help other people.”
Each bus route has its unique rewards, according to Chanaye. Some passengers have shared candy with her. This year a passenger gave her a pumpkin for Halloween.
“That was really nice because my daughter had missed her field trip to the pumpkin farm,” she said. “I picked up a passenger in the morning and he asked me if I had children. When I picked him up in the evening, he had the pumpkin for me. He said that I was a very good driver.”
Chanaye said her father had always wanted to be a county bus driver and he was the part of her inspiration for applying to MCTS. Chanaye has been driving with MCTS for three years. She is currently an extra on the day shift. Before going to work for MCTS, Chanaye drove a school bus and for five years trained other school bus drivers.
“I actually enjoy driving a county bus more than my own vehicle,” Chanaye said. “I enjoy sitting up higher and having a clear view of the road. A lot of people feel safer riding in a county bus than they do in their own car.”
After earning her diploma from Harold S. Vincent High School in 2006, Chanaye earned a certified nursing assistant degree. She also took a number of business courses from Kaplan University.