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

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