Vice President Biden's Remarks to the IAFF

Remarks by the Vice President to the International Association of Firefighters at their 2009 Legislative Conference.


I will not bore you again, but my mom remembers and knows full hand, since she helped me raise my children, when your guys used the jaw of life to save my two boys. My mom knows, and so when she said, talk to them -- she didn't know exactly when -- but talk to them -- because she also knows you saved my life. And you know the story behind that. And she also knows you saved my home, because this isn't just about me and my sons and my wife, it's -- I just think you guys underestimate the impact you have on families.

The job you do every day that you do -- you put on that helmet, you put on that gear, you jump on the back of that truck, and you jump on that ambulance and you do what you got to do, and you say that's your job. Well, to you it's a job; to us it's our lives. And we owe you. And I just want you to know that it is something that everyone in my family fully understands.

I would not have ever become a United States senator, and obviously I wouldn't be here if that hadn't happened were it not for the fire fighters in my state. As I've told you before and I'll say it again for the national press, we got three political parties in Delaware -- Democrats, Republicans and fire fighters. (Applause.)

And I didn't realize it, but every once in a while -- every once in a while I say a lot of things. (Laughter.) I have a bad habit of telling you what I think. (Laughter.) And in my first campaign in 1972, I stood before the fire fighters in my state -- all professional, both volunteer and paid -- and they were all together. And I said, look, folks, I need your help. And I said -- and I used the phrase, there are three political parties in the state, and if you've got to have one, I choose the fire fighters. Well, the firefighters kept my back my entire political career, as well as in terms of my personal life. And so I owe you in more ways than one.

You know, each and every day, I, like you, read the papers about another fire fighter who's lost his life, another father of three who courageously heads into a building to save an entire building of families, but tragically leaves his own life behind -- and a family behind. For me, this debt is personal, like it is for so many. And there is only one way to repay that debt -- and I mean this sincerely, and I hope my career has demonstrated I mean it -- is to equip you, is to train you, and is to give you everything you need not only to protect our lives, but to protect those of your fellow fire fighters. (Applause.)

Like you, I don't want to read another obituary about a fire fighter who lost his life by putting himself in harm's way for the good of the community. I don't want to open the newspaper and see the story of Kevin Kelley of the IAFF Local 718 in Boston , who died in an apparatus accident, leaving behind a wife and three daughters. I don't want to read more about Michael Darrington's family -- I don't want anymore Michael Darringtons of International Fire Fighters Local 92 in Toledo; or Brion Newkirk of your union Local 888 in Greeley, Colorado; or Jeff Mann of Local 1883 in Henderson, Nevada -- or any other -- any other women and men who have, and we know, will lose their lives. The list is -- sadly goes on.

Now, look, I understand -- I'm a realist. I'm a pragmatist. I understand we can't make an inherently dangerous profession safe. I get that. I know that. So when I say these things sometimes my critics say, well, this is an inherently dangerous profession. I say, I get that. But we certainly can make an inherently dangerous profession safer than it is today. (Applause.) We can do that in the process.

I've read the studies conducted by the U.S. Fire Administration that found that most fire departments -- most fire departments are unable to respond to many of the common emergencies with the existing staff they have. I read another study, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which I referenced to you last time I spoke to you, that identified -- and I want the public to hear this -- the lack of staffing is the key cause of fire fighter fatality. (Applause.) Lack of staffing. (Applause.)