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John Salka gets under skin of Watertown, NY mayor. post called town’s building inspection policy ‘insane’.

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Mayor Jeffrey Graham’s blog

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief John Salka has basically been told to butt out of the affairs of Watertown, New York. Mayor Jeffrey Graham is a upset by Chief Salka’s February 1 blog post at calling a decision by the Watertown City Council preventing firefighters from inspecting commercial buildings for fire hazards “insanity” and saying “it’s a mistake”.

Let me tell you what else is insanity and a mistake. A mayor drawing this kind of attention to a columnist who pisses him off. Something tells me Mayor Graham making a big deal of this during a City Council meeting will soon bring out a lot of other fire service writers in support of John Salka and against the policy. Along the way he will bring a lot more eyeballs to John’s post. 

And look, my prediction is already true! That guy is now writing about it and is providing a link. Boy, that was quick. I must be psychic or something.

Here’s more from Craig Fox at the Watertown Daily Times:

The blog by the publication’s contributing editor irked the mayor so much he commented on it at Monday night’s City Council meeting. It bothered him because City Manager Sharon A. Addison has been trying to work things out behind the scenes on the turf battle between the Fire Department and the city Code Enforcement Office over the issue. It also comes at a time when she has been trying to calm the bad blood between the departments, the mayor said.

He wondered how Mr. Salka, an author who wrote the book “First In, Last Out — Leadership Lessons From the New York Fire Department,” would have gotten wind of the story about a city of Watertown issue. He surmised someone in the Fire Department may have tipped off the writer.

Watertown Mayor Jeffrey Graham from city website.

And Mayor Graham, if you are wondering how I found out about this issue, I will tell you up front my source is someone from Watertown, New York. Since you are so interested in who tipped off John Salka, I will take the unusual step of doing something reporters avoid doing at all cost and will name my source. Ready for it? Have a pen? Write this down. His name is Jeffrey Graham.

You see, Mayor Graham, I didn’t read my friend John’s post about your town and was totally unaware of it until I happened to spot your comments in your local paper while doing my ususal daily seach for news about firefighters.

If somehow I have your attention Mayor Graham, let me give you two suggestions. The first is that you and your City Council, instead of complaining, pay attention to the wise advice a man with John Salka’s experience in the fire service is willing to share with you. The second one is that you just might want to keep this column around as a reminder from someone with vast experience in the news business about how you shouldn’t react when you see a column that pisses you off. Just think of both these things as a bargain in the tight budget times we are in. They are yours free of charge.

It’s not often you get a bargain like this for your city. Use it wisely.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • retired firefighter

    hmm, the Mayor doesn’t like getting attention focused on him. Then he should run for a political office if he can’t stand the “heat.”

    As for the firefighters doing building inspections, isn’t that part of the ISO fire rating process now? And finding unsafe items means that they are doing their job in protecting the properties and also potentially saving their own lives.

    Pre-fire planning is important- as is code inspections and enforcement. If you don’t believe it is important- just ask the Charleston Fire Dept. in SC- there are nine families that would encourage the inspection process by firefighters!

  • Jumpin’jack

    Watertown is laughable anyway. I have never lived in such a dysfunctional place before. City Hall is chock full of nepotism and one must wonder of the in-breeding in such a far off, remote and distant place. Be glad when my time is up so I can go back to where pettiness is not built up into war-fare.

  • Fire21

    The last thing you want to do when being stupid is to call attention to yourself!!

  • Puzzled

    Ok, maybe I’m missing something here.

    With all due respect to Chief Salka, building inspections and Pre-planning are two very different actions. Inspections are mandatory usually by city or county ordinance. Pre-plans are voluntary, looking for what can kill us. We are also looking for locations of records etc. to protect to help the business get up and running quickly in the event of a fire.

    My department has no enforcement powers, period. We know this. But we do call on comercial interests, set an appointment for a visit, and explain that we are not there looking for OSHA, NFPA, or any city/county code violations. We might let them know something might be unsafe, but we cannot issue citations, warnings, or any other “official” ruling.

    I see this as “member” measuring between Code Enforcement and the Fire Department. Something which should, (and in my opinion) could be clairified with a little adult communication. While both operations share the common bond of life safety, it’s not semantics. it’s 2 distinctly different functions.

  • Anonymous

    It is called the Streisand Effect .

  • Arthur Miller

    An incredible response by you, Dave. Just incredible. Well said.

    • dave statter

      Too kind. I was worried a came off snarkier than usual. Don’t like to be mean.


    Snarky requires much more talent than being mean. Well done.
    Steady as she goes.

    • http://none Watertown Tax Payer

      Puzzled what you are missing is the Watertown City Firefighters have been doing Fire inspections for about 80 years and they’ve been ordered not only to stop inspecting but to stay out of buildings completely. Even if they are invited for training or pre plan at this point they cannot enter a commercial building. The mayor is a bar owner and 2 council members are business hy and they didn’t like the inspections and the code supervisor and Fire Chief can’t get along, now they have taken their position of business owners over ISO ratings public safety and Firefighter safety, and now on the mayors blog he is threatening cuts due to all the recent publicity.

  • Scott Maddison

    First of all Mr. Shatter, thank you for looking out the brotherhood of firefighters. Second of all there is a reason Chief Salka is one of my mentors, he is one the best experts in leadership of the fire service! However, having lived in and around Watertown from 1988 to 2000, butting heads with Mr. Graham maybe a huge waste of time. Do not get me wrong, I cherish firefighter safety as my number one priority, followed by public safety! Problem is in Watertown, there is a reason Graham has been mayor for 20 some years. It’s called the inner circle or the good old boys club. You don’t belong or go against it, you will lose. There has been more decisions and city policy made in Graham’s bar and similar ones then in the actual council chambers. Having read your article and blog, the Watertown Daily Crimes and Firehouse Magazine, all I can say is good say is good luck to Ms. Addison and Fire Chief Herman. There is a reason Graham is called the “Teflon Mayor”, any major scandal involving the city, he always comes away smelling like a rose!

  • Female Firefighter

    “Puzzled what you are missing is the Watertown City Firefighters have been doing Fire inspections for about 80 years and they’ve been ordered not only to stop inspecting but to stay out of buildings completely” So what your saying Watertown Tax Payer is when one of “those” buildings catch fire it will be completely fine for the fire department to stay out, make no interior attack attempts and THEN when questioned about there decision and actions after the building is a complete loss the fire department they can quote his STAY OUT order back to him. Sounds brilliant to me. I would suggest use the collapse zone rule and protect as many exposures as possible (trees) and just let the buildings go.

  • puzzled

    I get it. Mine is bigger than yours. Thanks.

  • Simon

    This is an example of a disturbing trend across America. The building inspection folks are trying to take over fire inspection work to save “their” jobs. Before the recession hit (pre-2008) construction was booming, more building inspectors were being hired and Fire and Building got along much better. But as construction fell, so did permit revenues to support the building inspectors jobs. Desperate for another source of revenue to protect their jobs, Building folks came after FD plan review duties and inspections – areas that consistently produced some revenue. In the turf war to accomplish this switch the rift between Building and Fire widened. The end result is what you see in Watertown and has already happened to varying degrees in other communities. With many FD’s cutting budgets, and fewer and fewer fire chiefs with Prevention backgrounds (to realize the real value and importance of it), some have just handed over their FP’s duties to building inspectors – most who have never had to enter a smoke filled burning building in their lives. Who loses – firefighters and the public they serve. Too bad, so sad.

  • anonymous

    Welcome to the City of Watertown. The council at last Mondys meeting alo passed a resolution that restricts who & how many peoplr can live in a household. If you visit leave your constitutional rights at home.