This is why Google is celebrating England’s first black firefighter Frank Bailey

Thursday, 26th November 2020, 11:03 am
Updated Thursday, 26th November 2020, 11:03 am

Frank Bailey, thought to be England’s first full-time black firefighter, is being celebrated on Google’s homepage on what would have been his 95th birthday.

The eye-catching Google Doodle, illustrated by West Yorkshire-based artist Nicola Miles, features a cartoon Bailey dressed in his uniform, with the Google logo drawn in the shape of a fire hose.

Google Doodles are special illustrations of notable historical figures, holidays, events or achievements that search engine users can learn about in one click.

So, why is Google celebrating firefighter Frank Bailey on 26 November?

Who was Frank Bailey?

Frank Bailey passed away in 2015, but his legacy lives on. He dedicated his life to the fight for equality.

A Guyanese-British firefighter and social worker, he was born on 26 November in 1925 in Guyana, South America.

He attended local schools before taking a job on a German trade ship, which brought him to New York where he found work in a hospital as a porter before becoming a medical assistant.

There, he staged a walkout in protest of the hospital’s segregated dining facilities, which resulted in the dining areas being integrated.

According to Google’s biography on Bailey, this was “just one of [his] many successful challenges to an unequal status quo”.

Frank Bailey (The Bailey family/Google)

How did he become a firefighter?

In his late 20s, in 1953, Bailey moved to London where he heard black people were not being hired for the city’s fire service.

He was determined to challenge this racism, applying to join the West Ham Fire Brigade where he made history by being accepted into the service and becoming London’s first black firefighter.

Bailey is also widely believed to be the first full-time black firefighter in England, according to the Black History Month website.

Speaking about his career in a 2007 collection of memoirs of black and Asian staff in the London Fire Brigade, Bailey 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.”

Bailey then became a union branch representative at his station to advocate for workers’ rights, before he left the role in 1965 after being repeatedly denied a promotion.

Yet, he made history again by becoming the first black legal advisor at Marylebone Magistrates Court, specialising in working with black young people.

His last job before retirement was as a guardian ad litem, representing children in legal proceedings such as adoption and divorce.

When did he die?

Bailey passed away six days after his birthday on 2 December 2015, and is survived by his three daughters.

Right up until he died, he was encouraging young, black firefighters to get involved in politics.

How is Frank Bailey remembered?

Google’s biography on the firefighter and social worker ends: “Happy Birthday, Frank Bailey. Your actions continue to encourage others to never give up in the fight for equality for all.”

In a statement for Google, Bailey’s daughter Alexis wrote that she’s “very proud” of her father.

She said: “He spent his whole life fighting against injustice and he never gave up. He taught me to challenge things I believe are wrong and stand up for myself and others, even when it scares me.

“He loved to quote his hero Thomas Paine, the political activist: ‘The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.’ I didn’t always appreciate it when I was growing up, but my dad showed me that hard work pays off and you can make a difference if you’re passionate and relentless.”

Alexis said he “inspired” her to fight for what she believes in, as the racial and inequality issues her father came up against are still relevant today.

She continued: “His enthusiasm for equality sometimes got him into trouble. He never shied away from a challenge or a difficult conversation and had many angry showdowns. He put energy and sincerity into everything he did and people respected that.”

In a statement read out at Bailey’s funeral in 2016, 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.”