“Chief 56” has acknowledged his last call.
An icon of New Kensington firefighting, J. Edward Saliba Sr. died Wednesday afternoon.
“He was 89 and a half,” said his son Edward Saliba Jr., who followed his father’s footsteps and now is the city’s fire chief.
“It’s a sad day for New Kensington,” said Mayor Tom Guzzo about Saliba’s death.
“The chief was an icon. He deeply cared about our citizens and firefighters,” Guzzo said. “He took pride in our city.”
Saliba served officially as chief for 32 years, from 1978 until his retirement in 2010. As an honor to him, the city let him keep the title of chief after his retirement, and he went to help out at fires as often as he could.
“He remained chief until this afternoon, when he died,” Saliba Jr. said.
During his term as chief, the city purchased an aerial truck, built a fifth fire station in 1991 and built a new No. 3 fire station in 1994.
About 10 years ago, New Kensington Council passed a resolution naming the No. 3 station after him.
Other area firefighters remember Saliba as a brave, caring fireman who shared his knowledge with generations of firefighters.
“When I became chief, I remember him as my mentor,” said J.C. Tedorski, Arnold’s fire chief.
“He would stand by you at a fire and say, ‘Watch for that,’ and ‘Look at this.’ He was a wealth of knowledge,” Tedorski said.
Former Arnold fire and police Chief Willie Weber said Saliba was a mentor to a whole host of firefighters and chiefs.
“He really showed people how to run a fire organization,” he said.
Weber remembers one deadly fire in a store in which two children died.
“Chief Saliba went in and removed the two children from that fire. It was tough,” Weber said.
Saliba was a 1948 graduate of Ken High. From 1951 to 1953, he served as an Army combat artilleryman in the Korean War.
After the war, he returned home to his family and Station No. 3, where he was a firefighter. He opened Saliba’s grocery store on Victoria Avenue.
Tedorski said he remembers as a kid going to Saliba’s store with his father, who was a firefighter, so they could have their weekly meeting with Saliba.
In addition to Saliba Jr., survivors include another son, Kenneth Saliba, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic, and a daughter, Kelly Saliba Baranowski, a teacher in the Kiski Area School District. He also is survived by two grandsons, including J. Edward Saliba II, and two granddaughters.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Rusiewicz Funeral Home, 3124 Leechburg Road, Lower Burrell.