Frank Bailey: Remembering London’s First Black Firefighter

Frank Arthur Bailey, a man who’s legacy has been remembered by a glistening career in the London Fire Brigade, recently passed away at the age of 90.

Born in Guyana, Frank came to England in 1953 as a political activist, joining the West Indian Standing Conference.

Whilst as a member of WISC, he heard about the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), to which a representative explained that Black people ‘were not employed by the fire service’.

Regardless of the claims, Frank Bailey applied and joined West Ham Fire Brigade in 1955 where he was accepted and served at Silvertown Fire Station, making Frank the first full time Black firefighter in England.

Frank was an active trade unionist and became branch secretary at his station before leaving in 1965 to become a social worker and the first Black legal advior at Marylebone Magistrates Court, specialising his work with Black youths.

Frank was asked for his thoughts on his career in a 2007 Brigade booklet called ‘In their own words’ – a collection of memoirs and a comprehensive history of Black and Asian staff in the London Fire Brigade.

He said: “I was told that the authorities were not hiring black men because they were not strong enough physically or well enough educated to do the job.

“I immediately recognised racism and said I’m going to apply to be a firefighter and see if they find me unfit.

“I saved a fellow firefighter’s life when he fainted while we were on the fifth floor of a ladder drill session.

“I brought him down to the ground in a fireman’s lift. The guy’s weight was 16 stone and he was 6’2.”

In a statement read out at Franks funeral, London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “Frank was a pioneer and rightly challenged the out-dated practices prevalent at the time.

“He played an enormous role in the history of Black firefighters in this country and his legacy is still felt today as we strive to make London Fire Brigade reflect the diverse communities it serves.

“As the Brigade celebrates its 150th year we will fittingly mark Frank’s passing and his contribution to our history.”
FBU National Secretary for Black & Ethnic Minority Members Michael Nicholas said: “A chance encounter between his daughter Alexis and an FBU London official in 2000 brought Frank to our attention.

“His knowledge and passion for black self-organisation and progression in our society remains an inspiration to us today and he is rightly thought of as the father of black firefighting in this country and should not be forgotten.”
Franks passing took place six days after his birthday on December 2nd 2015 and is survived by his three daughters.


wow what is this an inspirational story thank u to show that we are strong may god bles ur soul rest in peace Frank

I knew Frank personally, we became friends after one of his daughters introduced herself to Mr. Garrett Brooks a Now retired Fire Officer at the Dominion Theatre, Charring Cross Road, London. We (the “Beam”) an FBU National Section representing the interests of Black & Ethnic Members of the British Fire service, were hoisting a joint venture with the Black Commedians of Britain.
We followed through on her sentiments and found Frank to be an active, well read & passioned elderly gentleman. Frank had 3 prominent first in Britain. The First Black Fire Fighter of modern times. The Frist Black Mental Health Social Worker. And The frist Black Advocate representing Black youth.
Frank would be invited to all Beam’s AGM’s and celebrated his 90th Birthday with his family & a few members of BEAM at his home in Notting Hill. Attendees in cluded Mr. Wayne McCollin “ Britain’s most senior Black Fire Officer a Debuty Chief Officer”. Mr. Carl St-Paul Station Manager & Brilliant Leader of Beam. Mr. Garrett Brooks “Loyal & Diligent Watch Manager & Ranking Committee Member of Beam. And yours truly Renick C Joseph Watch Manager & Developement Officer of BEAM. We’re all retired now. And better people for having known and shared Frank’s twilight years. ❤️

Regrettably he is not the first. My great grandfather George Arthur Roberts joined the Auxillary Fire Service in 1938 and fought the blitz in London. It is unlikely Mr Bailey knew George Arthur as I think by the time Mr Bailey joined he had ceased to be an AFS member.

This is a gem of black history knowledge.
Thank you so much for sharing.
This gentleman was a Superhero of his day.
His story should become a bigger part of OUR-history.

I am going to use Black History month 2018 as an opportunity to share this information with my little boy and his classmates. It shows that despite the limitations people try to put on a person, You CAN do anything!
Thank You

Frank Arthur Bailey was a great man and hope that he rest in peace

we are all the same we bleed the same R.I.P sir good on you frank

Well done I admire his guts and tenacity. Goes to show that he has stand up for what he truly believes and his capabilities. People of Caribbean decent are highly educated and deserves their rights and place in society.

One should not be judge by the colour of their skin, but by their knowledge, their skills and capabilities. Rest in eternal peace. You are an inspiration to all people of colour and your country

This is inspiring and fantastic to read about. For those that are saying he was not the first black firefighter, it does state in the article that he was the first FULL TIME black firefighter and this is why he is being honoured here, not that this takes away the heroic actions of any black man that preceded him. I salute Frank Bailey and those that came before and after.

A glowing inspiration to us all. He saw possible racism and faced it head on. Brave and true to himself. No complaining and whining about it, just got on with it and proved he was strong and clever enough. Well done in becoming the first black legal adviser ( clerk of the court surely ? ) and running a court for youths showing a shining example of what can be achieved. RIP Frank.

RIP Frank, your a legend of the fire brigade

Rip Frank, a true hero and legend of the fire brigade, your memories will go on for ever

The first black fireman was actually George Arthur Roberts. He served in WW1 and he completed his training with the fire service in 1939, and saved countless lives as a firefighter during the Blitz.
What a complete hero.

George Arthur Roberts served during World War II, and was even honoured for it. There may have been others too, or even earlier examples.
A great man to be sure, but not entirely sure it is factually correct that Frank was the first ?

I have read the whole story. I like that person and his motivation.

I was a bit baffled by ‘recognising’ racism in the fire service but being able to get a job right away

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. A TRUE HERO & A FALLEN SOLDIER,

More facts and important people, BEING PUT BACK into our collective history, and receiving well overdue recognition ….the work goes on!

Without wanting to take away from anything from the very great service to the community that all these other firefighters provided, the fact that Mr Bailey was the first Full time Firefighter as opposed to Auxillary seems to be why he is deserving of being credited as the First to perform his duties in this capacity

Without wanting to take anything away from the very great service to the community that all these other firefighters provided, the fact that Mr Bailey was the first Full time Firefighter as opposed to Auxillary seems to be why he is deserving of being credited as the First to perform his duties in this capacity

Wow… this is wonderful history, going to share with my teenagers who are half Guyanese.

Amazing courage and what an great determination. Risking his life as an employed firefighter to help fight racism and stereotypes. Sounds like an great man who went on to save a lot of people’s lives in more ways than one. I am sure Frank Bailey may not be the first black firefighter as others here are pointing out but he and the other men who put their lives at risk have courage and for that we should be grateful and proud of them all.

What a fantastic tribute to such a strong brave forward thinking man

Thank you! More stories of inspiration are greatly needed and Frank Bailey’s positive contribution to society certainly fills that need.

Brilliant story – inspirational man. Deserves more than the careless writing, riddled with typos and inconsistencies.

What a great man an inspiration to all regardless of race creed or colour.
My grandson has the name Arthur too.
Rest in peace Frank.

Excellent, much needed, coverage of the important role played by Arthur Bailey. So many BAME members of our society have until now been willfully ignored.

Excellent, much needed, coverage of the important role played by Frank Bailey. So many BAME members of our society have until now been willfully ignored.

A great story. I applaud his spirit. Never let the prevailing wind stop you. Keep on going no matter what.

Frank Arthur Bailey was the first black full time fire fighter in London.
George Arthur Roberts was the first auxiliary fire fighter.

It’s the difference between being in the army and being in the territorial army. One is a job the other a hobby be it paid or voluntary.

By the way if you’re black you don’t have to have Arthur as your middle name (At least I don’t think so) to be a fire fighter.

Those who are saying he wasn’t the first need to read more carefully…”making Frank the first ‘full time’ Black firefighter in England.”

This reminds me of the famous Quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream, that one day you will not be judged by color of their skin but by the contents of their character”…this quote fits Frank Bailey..
As Google too, recognises his Achievements in role of his First Black person for Fire Services.. Falls in with the Black Life’s Matters..

It says he was the first full time Black Fireman. Does not claim the first ever as others served in auxiliary services. Lets remember all the pioneers and not nit pick.

Such an inspiration, I’m a mixed race female I still think it’s hard for ethnic minorities to progress.
I feel proud when I read of stories like this.

What a great man

Must say, I very much enjoyed reading about Mr Bailey after seeing a ‘Google Doodle’ when I sat down to have my morning coffee. It was nice of Mr Renick C Joseph to share his very interesting memory.

I have every respect both for Frank Bailey, and for George Arthur Roberts, who it appears also played an important breakthrough role in the Fire Service. Both these men, and all Black men and women who took significant steps in a white society, should be remembered with respect. Without a shadow of a doubt, you guys, particularly those important ‘firsts’, didn’t have it easy.

Kenny Turner, white guy, Glasgow, Scotland

Why is one man being singled out for working in a public sector job which thousands and thousands of men and women do as well? I worked in the public sector all my life, can’t wait for google to promote me!

glad i clicked on the icon what a remarkable man and a wonderful life may he rest in peace and always be remembered xoxo

Both George Arthur Roberts, who incidentally has a Blue Plaque in his memory, and Frank Bailey, were very brave Gentlemen, I know that the LFB is proud of them both, but it is a shame the Google did not recognise George Arthur Roberts, who was the first Black fire fighter, it must cause pain to his relatives that his achievements including being a First World War Veteran were not recognised.

What does that say about Google’s ability to find the truth



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