Francis Ross Handy, 71, firefighter and activist

Francis Ross Handy, a retired Baltimore firefighter who helped establish the city's African-American firefighters organization and battled discriminatory practices of the 1950s, died of cancer Thursday at Joseph Richey Hospice. The Pikesville resident was 71.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Fremont Avenue, Mr. Handy attended city public schools. He completed his high school education while serving as a combat Marine during the Korean War. He attained the rank of sergeant.


He joined the city Fire Department in 1954 and was an early member of the Social Association of Fire Fighters, whose purpose was to eradicate the separate firehouse bedrooms, toilets and bathing facilities to which African-American firefighters were relegated. They also were barred from becoming members of the firefighters union.

In 1969, Mr. Handy participated in a national convention in New York City that examined problems facing black firefighters. As a result of the convention, the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters was organized in 1970 in Hartford, Conn.


In 1970, he helped establish the Vulcan Blazers Inc. of Baltimore City, a group that represents more than 400 African-American firefighters.

During his 28 years with the department, he had been a driver and acting lieutenant at Engine 45 on Cross Country Boulevard. He retired in 1982 from Engine 20 in Walbrook.

Mr. Handy enjoyed photography and travel.

He was a trustee, sexton and member for more than 50 years of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Baltimore, where services were held Monday. He had also been president of its United Methodist Men and Christian Men's Fellowship.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, the former Dolores Ames; two sons, Quincy Von Handy and Quintin Ross Handy, both of Pikesville; a brother, John E. Handy of Baltimore; two sisters, Isabella Grandy and Elizabeth Handy, both of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.