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John Salka

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John Salka “is a 27-year veteran of the FDNY and currently holds the rank of Battalion Chief in the 18th Battalion in the Bronx. He has instructed at the FDNY Fire Academy in several capacities including it's Probationary Firefighters School, Captains Development Program, Firefighters Professional Development Program and it's Battalion Chiefs Command Course.”  John Salka is the author of First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department.

Publisher’s Weekly said of First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department, “Salka, an FDNY battalion chief in the Bronx, has spent 25 years with the department, rising from firefighter to his current rank. He shares his insights on managing people, coping with crises, mentoring, decision making, adjusting to change and more. While Salka uses his experiences fighting fires, he clearly shows how his work has applications in almost any corporation: "[O]ur mission is to protect the people and property of New York City.... Since your customers define this value, your customers define your business. Organizations today need to ask themselves, Who is our customer? Only by figuring out exactly who their customer is and what they want can organizations fully grasp their mission." Salka discusses how he works with his firefighters and how managers can use his tactics. For example, he says, "[T]he most effective way to show your people that you trust them is to delegate to them. This is standard operating procedure in the FDNY. By letting them tackle problems on their own, you demonstrate your belief in them." The book covers key aspects to leadership—establishing trust, connecting with employees, decision making, engaging employees, dealing with crises and nurturing new leaders—in a logical fashion. The writing is solid though not inspiring. Readers who expected thrilling tales of firefighting will be disappointed because Salka's real-life anecdotes are toned down. Overall, this is a solid, but not unique, look at leadership.”

One reader of First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department said, “Salka's advice is modeled on the leadership lessons of the New York City Fire Department. He takes many of the basic principles of effective leadership that are used to define the officers of FDNY and applies it to real life situations that can be used at any level of leadership by comparing these situations to those faced by the firefighters and their daily battles.

This book's real strength comes from Salka's approach: he writes to the front line supervisor/manager, the folks who are often on the first tier of management. While many books, as good as they are, assume that the reader is in a position to affect policy and choose their entire team, "First In" speaks to managers whose responsibility is the daily performance of the staff. In addition to great advice that can be put to practical use by leaders at any level, Salka regales the reader with.”

One reader of First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department said, “As a member of corporate America, I know first hand how many bad managers there are out there, and how easy it is to make poor decisions when managing people. This book is straightforward and easy to read, but more importantly, it outlines what I think, are some of the most fundamental ideas behind strong leadership. Some are common sense ideas that are easy to forget (and are helpful to read again from this angle) others are more surprising. But you will see most if not all of them in every good boss/leader you've ever worked for or observed. (and respected, for that matter.) Highly recommended to anyone who is looking for a truly useful book on managing and leading - the right way.”

First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department
John Salka  More Info

About the New York City Fire DepartmentFollowing the Revolutionary War, the Department was reorganized and incorporated as the Fire Department of the City of New York. The volunteer Fire Department continued to protect the lives and property of the citizens of the city until after the close of the Civil War when, in 1865, they were superseded by the paid Metropolitan Fire Department. The change created resentment and bitter actions were taken by some who opposed the elimination of the volunteers. This resulted in rough and tumble battles fought on both personal and political levels.

The introduction of the steam engine spelled the final doom of the volunteer department in New York. The steam apparatus eliminated the need for men to pump the water, and the horses ended the problem of hauling engines by hand.

First Company of paid Fire Department to go "in service" was Engine Co. 1, located in lower Manhattan at 4 Centre Street. Apparatus was horse-drawn Amoskeag steam-powered pumper which was same type issued to later companies. Wheels were steel rimmed.  At the beginning, the paid fire service extended only to certain parts of New York City (Manhattan). The Act of 1865 united Brooklyn and New York (cities) to form a Metropolitan District. By the end of 1865 the department consisted of 13 Chief Officers and 552 Company Officers and firemen. They worked a continuous tour of duty, with 3 hours a day for meals and one day off a month. They were paid salaries according to their rank or grade. The first regulations were also formulated and they were fairly strict and straight laced.

The volunteers, despite their disappointment, accepted the decision and publicly declared that they would continue to function and serve until properly relieved by paid units. The Act provided that members of the volunteers were to be given preference over all others in filling the rolls of the paid department. Due to major fires, which resulted in excessive fire losses and a rise in insurance rates, the department was reorganized in 1866 under the command of General Alexander Schaler. Under military discipline, the department began to realize its full potential and fire losses began to generally reduce. 


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