Sad Loss of Founder Member, Don Bates

FRSA Open Book of Condolence

I regret to inform you that one of our founders and first National General Secretary of the union, Don Bates, passed away on Sunday 4 July 2021.

Don was born in East Ham, London in 1932 during a time that was to be known as the great depression. He joined Kent Fire Brigade in February 1957, becoming a Retained Firefighter at Medway Fire Station, after moving to Maidstone Fire Station a few years later he eventually became the stations Sub Officer-in-Charge in 1975.

In the build-up to the first National Fire Strike in 1977, and in the belief that Retained Firefighters were not being well represented by the FBU, Don was key in forming the Retained Firefighters’ Union (RFU) in 1976. He became the first National General Secretary (NGS) of the RFU, a position which was unpaid for the first three and half years and was head of the union until 1997 when reaching the age of 65 years he retired.

During his time as NGS Don met and shook hands with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, was invited as part of the RFU Executive to have tea with Prince Charles at Highgrove, was a founder member of the Federation of World Volunteer Firefighters Associations, but most importantly, represented and fought for parity on pension rights and terms and conditions on behalf of Retained Firefighters throughout the UK.

To demonstrate just what a larger-than-life character Don was and someone who had led an active and interesting life, he published his autobiography in 2017 which catalogued his life which included his time as a Sailor, Retained Firefighter, Personnel and Safety Manager, Founder and NGS of the RFU, Landlord, Borough Councillor and Employment Tribunal Member!

However, the real love of Don’s life was his wife Daphne, who selflessly supported Don throughout all his careers and worked alongside him during his time as the RFU NGS. Don and Daphne were married for over 60 years, before Daphne sadly passed away in 2019.

Don leaves behind two wonderful sons, Graham and Ian of whom he was immensely proud.

On a personal note, I will be forever in Don’s debt. He interviewed me for a position within the RFU back in 1997 and decided I was right for the job. He was a courageous and single-minded individual who was just the type of person that Retained Firefighters needed back in 1976. He knew that there would be many more battles for the RFU (now FRSA) to fight, today and tomorrow and that the union was unique in its ambitions and approach to achieving justice and fairness for firefighters across the UK. Don’s spirit will live on within the FRSA and I hope we continue to act in a way that he would approve.

We have opened a book of condolence for messages to be left and eventually passed onto Don’s family, please do take the time to contribute.

Tristan Ashby
Chief Executive Officer