London Fire Brigade

Brigade pays tribute to London’s first post-war black firefighter ahead of ceremonial funeral

12 January 2016

Over 80 London firefighters gave a guard of honour at the funeral of London's first post-war black firefighter Frank Bailey.
 
Frank Arthur Bailey came to London from Guyana in 1953 and as a political activist he joined West Indian Standing Conference.

He later attended a TUC conference and heard from a Fire Brigades Union (FBU) delegate that black people 'were not employed by the fire service'.
 
He applied and joined West Ham Fire Brigade in 1955 and served at Silvertown Fire Station. Although there is information about black firefighters during WWII, it is believed Frank was the first full time black firefighter and quite possibly the first in the country.
 
Frank was an active trade unionist and became branch secretary at his station and counted the then FBU General Secretary, John Horner as a close friend.

Frank left the Brigade in 1965 to become a social worker and the first black legal advisor to black youths at Marylebone Magistrates Court.


 
Frank was asked for his thoughts on his career in a 2007 Brigade booklet called 'In their own words' – a 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."

Frank was 'a pioneer'

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: "Frank was a pioneer and rightly challenged the outdated practices prevalent at the time.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."
 
Sadly Frank passed away on the 2nd December 2015, six days after his 90th birthday. He is survived by his three daughters. His funeral took place on Monday, 11 January.