New Kensington’s fire chief still named Saliba
The name of Ed Saliba will remain at the top of the New Kensington Fire Department’s chain of command.
On Monday, Edward C. Saliba, the son of the city’s longtime fire Chief J. Edward Saliba, was appointed unanimously by council to succeed his father as the city’s fire chief. The elder Saliba died June 26 at the age of 89.
It was an emotional night for Saliba, himself a 33-year veteran of the department who essentially commanded it as assistant chief since his father’s retirement in 2010. His father retained the title of fire chief until his death as a gesture of respect from the fire department and city officials.
The rare likelihood of a son succeeding his father as chief of a department the size of New Kensington’s was not lost on Saliba.
“It doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s an honor. I feel honored that I have the support of the firefighters.”
Mayor Tom Guzzo, who administered the oath of office to Saliba, thought it was fitting.
“Based on my experience and the experience of the people (council) up here, Ed is certainly qualified,” Guzzo said. “He has the training, the leadership qualities and the firefighting abilities that are required to lead our fire department.”
“The Saliba name is synonymous with Western Pennsylvania firefighting now, and I think it’s a great tradition.”
Before nominating Saliba, Guzzo addressed the crowd of residents who filled the council chambers, including a large contingent of firefighters.
Guzzo, as well as Councilmen Doug Aftanas, the public safety director, and Todd Mentecki, also a veteran firefighter, noted that it was a bittersweet occasion — a time for celebration in the midst of a time of mourning, particularly for the new chief.
Guzzo said the late chief was “a giant in our city” whose “sterling reputation” went far beyond its boundaries. He said he discovered that when attending meetings in other cities across the state. After introducing himself as New Kensington’s mayor, he would field inquiries about how the elder Saliba was doing.
“Our chief will be missed for his commitment to New Kensington, for his incredible abilities and knowledge as a firefighter, as a trainer of young firefighters, a business owner, a father, a grandfather and as a friend to so many of us,” he said.
3 chiefs in 97 years
Guzzo noted that New Kensington has had only three fire chiefs in the past 97 years, and J. Edward Saliba served for 41 of them.
Mentecki recalled when he was 8 years old, he met the elder Saliba for the first time — when Saliba arrived to save Mentecki’s home from a fire on Christmas Eve 1978.
“I knew right then that I wanted to be a firefighter,” he said.
Aftanas said he got to know Saliba after being elected to council, and he became a mentor and a good friend.
“He was directly responsible for helping me understand the duties and responsibilities of public service,” he said.
Recalling how much he enjoyed his conversations with the old chief, Aftanas said, “You always felt better about yourself, your family and life in general when you left the company of the chief.”
Guzzo swore in the younger Saliba as Saliba’s wife, Leigh Ann; daughter, Jillian; and son, J. Edward Saliba II, looked on.
Saliba thanked council and the fire department not only for their confidence in him as chief but for all of their support following his father’s death.
Asked if he had ever dared to dream of succeeding his father, Saliba replied, “I never gave it a thought. I always wanted to help him, help the city and do what I could to help the fire department.”
“They broke the mold when he was made,” he continued. “I could never be like him. I could never fill my dad’s shoes.
“I’ll take the foundation he laid and with a lot of good firefighters in our department, we’ll move forward.”