As Firehouse Sees It: On to the Next Chapter

A few months ago, the FDNY 18th Battalion commander, Battalion Chief John J. Salka Jr., retired after 33 years on the job. A Firehouse® Magazine contributing editor for many years and a speaker at Firehouse conferences, John writes a monthly column that graces the back page every month. The author of two books, John now teaches around the country on leadership and officer training. He also writes a sometimes-controversial blog for

I recently visited FDNY Lieutenant Mike Wilbur, who was working his last tour in Ladder 27 in the Bronx. For the previous several months, Mike was working on a project to ensure that every FDNY rig, if practical, was retrofitted with seatbelts large enough to be worn over firefighter turnout gear. The multimillion-dollar seatbelt retrofit program is designed to save lives. And the adoption of a modified, non-emergency-response program to certain types of alarms has brought an 80% drop in FDNY vehicle accidents citywide.

Wilbur discussed in great detail the consequences of bad things happening during emergency vehicle responses. One of his telling comments cautioned audiences that if you are out of control and reckless while operating an emergency vehicle, “You might as well just bring your checkbook to the trial. It will cost you big time.” The Apparatus Architect series of articles written in conjunction with Tom Shand has educated potential buyers of fire apparatus to the ins and outs of making a large financial purchase and outlines all the varied details needed for apparatus to be efficient, safe and practical.

Both of these students and masters of the fire service have learned how to teach others and share information gleaned over decades with the ultimate goal of making our firefighters safer. Along with them are such veteran fire officers and chiefs as John Norman (whose book on strategy and tactics was just published in its fourth edition), Vincent Dunn, Jim Smith, Harry Carter, Mark Emery, Mike Dugan and many others from around the country, all of whom have retired from active duty, but still use and share all of their years of practical hands-on experience to educate others. It is not that they are any more special than other firefighters from around the country, but they have worked in areas that allowed them to gather invaluable experience day after day and gained their niches for writing and speaking.

One of my colleagues told me I was born in “the era of fire.” Others who came after were born in the era of hazmat. Today, most are born in the era of EMS. Even if we don’t respond to a fire every day, we have to train and prepare.


In many parts of the country, the wildland fire season has been open for business for many months, much earlier than usual. Some people comment that it is wildland season year round in some areas. As of mid-September, 46,427 large wildland fires had burned 8,392,209 acres across the country. The acreage burned is the second most in the past 10 years. The 10-year average was 58,496 fires and 6,313,059 acres burned. As I write this, 43 active large fires are burning in California, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.