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First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department Paperback – February 22, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

After twenty five years in the most dangerous of all occupations, John Salka, Battalion Chief of The New York City Fire Department, offers tough and tender lessons in leadership. Salka masterfully leverages examples from fire fighting--"where lack of leadership can kill people"--to create values for leaders in every organization. He alternates vivid summaries of historic and terrifying fires (the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory, the 1993 World Trade Center explosion and ground zero) with metaphors from the firehouse to describe three commitments for decisive leadership. "Follow the smoke," is an imperative to uncover reality in yourself, your organization and your industry. Next, Salka counsels, "know their names before you send them into the flames," and encourages leaders to identify the contributions of each employee. The maxim, "Find your top whip" conveys ideas for developing future leaders and making a job into a classroom.

Other standout chapters focus on the nuances of building trust, clear decision-making and execution and tools for aligning individual and organization goals. Those expecting a macho approach to high-stakes leadership will be pleasantly surprised. Salka embraces intuition as "your subconscious trying to offer up a life time of experiences" and he explains how "managing emotional triggers" are ways of gaining competitive advantage. Salka's inspiring and passionate vision of leadership is a combination of reality testing, self-knowledge, and a shared mission when the heat is on. --Barbara Mackoff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio; Reprint edition (February 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591840686
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591840688
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
The New York Fire Department (FDNY) seemed a company of heroes in the months after September 11, 2001. Later, when investigations revealed the enormity of the blunders and the degree to which petty political infighting had literally doomed firefighters to death, the FDNY lost a bit of its luster. But FDNY traditionally has a core of strong leaders, and John Salka is one of them. In this book, he shares his leadership philosophy. It's no slur to observe that this is a leadership book for firehouse buffs who are as interested in firefighter yarns as in leadership. The leadership principles outlined here are sound but not new; what is fresh is that the author illustrates those principles with fire fighting stories, clearly far more interesting than war stories from accounting - even if a bit remote from most people's everyday business reality. After all, few business people risk their lives in their daily work, and probably no business has the esprit de corps of a firehouse. We recommend this book to business people across the professions. The ride inside the fire truck will keep you engrossed in its solid leadership lessons.
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Format: Hardcover
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 addtion to great advice that can be put to practical use by leaders at any level, Salka regails the reader with colorful stories of the men and women of the FDNY. Overall, a great read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If I had to read only one leadership book in my lifetime, this book would be it. Why? Because it is the best, most concise and most interesting themed book on how to lead, inspire and motivate people into TRUSTING their leadership I've ever read.

That having been said, I struggled to finish it. Not because of anything to do with the book. Rather because so much of Corporate America in 2015 seems hellbent to do just the exact opposite of every principle in this book - and then stand around and wonder why they get only the minimum from people and nobody trusts their "leadership."
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Format: Hardcover
Every CEO and aspiring business professional should read this book. Business executives and those who lead corporate teams will gain tremendous insight into how to successfully lead and motivate others. The style of writing is excellent. While reading the book I felt very much like a really great, normal, down-to-earth guy was talking to me, sharing his experiences and providing practical examples that I could easily apply to situations that I encounter everyday in the business world. And who better to teach leadership than someone who successfully leads people into life and death situations on a regular basis? The stories here are true inspiration for any aspiring leader. This is an exceptional book full of practical advice for all business professionals. All of our business leaders today, from production floor managers, to human resource executives to small business owners to the heads of large corporations should read this book and follow its example. A must read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Chief Salka presents outstanding examples of how to lead by example in his profession, and this will translate to many other industries. His background and experience as a Battalion Chief in the New York Fire Dept. is his conduit to providing fire service-related examples of leadership techniques and how to use them. This work is an excellent presentation of how to lead, how to lead by example and how to get the most out of your employees. Highly recommended, will read it again.
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Format: Paperback
My friend Ben Shideler bought this book, and this is what he has to say about it: First In, Last Out is a book about leadership in the fire service. FDNY Battalion Chief John Salka (Ret.) discusses his experiences with the New York Fire Department throughout his career as he rises through the ranks as a firefighter, lieutenant, captain, and finally a battalion chief where he stayed until he retired.

This book starts out with a slogan, or motto, stating every good leader in any organization should be the first to go in and the last person to come out. In the fire service this takes a literal meaning. When a building is on fire it is the responsibility of the company officer to lead his crew. By taking the first in approach people working under you will tend to follow and perform their duties as they have trained to without a second thought. Being the last person out builds effective leadership in the fact that everyone who looks up to you knows that you can perform the job and they are relieved from duties before you are.

I have personally used examples throughout this text as I have gone through my career. I first read this book when I had the rank of firefighter. At the time I had no leadership responsibilities but took it upon myself to always act as a leader. I would perform extra tasks which were not assigned to me and take a proactive approach to take care of my crew. When a promotional test opportunity presented itself a year later I was approached by my chief to take the test. I sat for a lieutenant exam, and with all my nerves shot, went through a very enduring process. Upon completion, I was approached by my chief and was given a conditional offer to be a captain, one rank higher than that I was testing for.
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