Born in Guyana, Frank Bailey came to England in 1953 as a political activist, joining the West Indian Standing Conference (WISC), an umbrella organisation formed in 1958 to promote the interests of the African‐Caribbean community in Britain.
Frank heard about the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) whilst he was a member of the WISC when a representative explained that Black people ‘were not employed by the fire service’.
Regardless of the statement, 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 advisor at Marylebone Magistrates Court. He specialised in working with Black youths.
For the 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, Frank was asked for his thoughts on his career.
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 died on 2 December 2015. In a statement at Frank’s funeral, London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “Frank was a pioneer and rightly challenged the outdated practices prevalent at the time.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.