Vice President Biden's Remarks to the IAFF

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


Look, folks, basically it's clear -- it's clear to me, it's clear to you, we got to make it clear to every American and every senator and congressperson, governor, county council person and mayor -- it's clear to me that the single greatest reason for fire fighters' deaths is that there's simply not enough fire fighters. I've read the studies, but you have lived the reality. Each and every day, you strap on your helmet and jump on the back of that truck. Look, ladies and gentlemen, my friends, I promise you that this is about to change in this administration. (Applause.)

Folks, I know you know me. But let me tell you about a guy you're going to get to know a lot better if you don't already -- is the President of the United States of America , Barack Obama. He is as committed as I have been my whole career, and his when he was a legislator and as a senator, to making your job easier and less dangerous, both with better equipment, more fire fighters, and continued better training.

You know, we've already increased funding for stations, equipment, better training, more protective clothing. We included $210 billion in the Recovery Act. We're committed to increasing funding for SAFER, which will go directly to fire departments, so you can hire more trained fire fighters to work by your sides and retain -- important point -- retain fire fighters who are in danger, as they were in Philadelphia, of being laid off.

Finally, the Public Safety Employee Cooperation Act, blocked by the last administration, will pass this time, and the President will sign it and he'll sign it with pride. (Applause.) With pride, he'll sign it. (Applause.)

Look, folks, I don't want to take too much of your time. As my mother would say, God love you -- you've had to hear about 300 speakers already and there's 400 behind me. (Laughter.) But, folks, the truth is, as you commit to saving the lives of Americans who are in danger, you continue to do that and we will continue, Barack Obama and I will continue to do everything we can to not only deal with saving their lives but saving your lives. They're not just puffed-up platitudes. This is your new government taking bold action to ensure that as a community of fire fighters, you are as strong as possible.

It's in our nation's own naked self-interest, because when your community -- your community -- and I don't mean the one you live in -- the community I'm talking to right now, the men and women in front of me, and the tens of thousands of you across America , when your community is stronger, my community, the community I live in, is safer. It's that simple, straightforward.

You've heard me say it before. You know what you've heard me say, and I want to -- I'm going to continue to repeat it as long as there's a breath in me. Everybody has their own image of 9/11, that tragic day, the tragic events, where there's the towers crumbling, the Pentagon ablaze, that -- those brave Americans taking control of a cockpit and taking down a plane before it could take out its target in Washington, D.C., killing hundreds of Americans.

But I tell you, you've heard me say it, the single most vivid image emblazoned in my consciousness relating to 9/11 was that grizzled fireman coming out of that dust and human debris, but with a sense of rectitude and determination on his face. That single image, at a moment when America needed images, lifted America off its knees. That single image inspired the American people, let them know, just like the look on his face, we will get through this and by darn we will nail those guys who did it to us. That's the image that came through. It wasn't just all your fire fighters who lost their lives. It was the resolve.

And the thing about you guys that I love about you men and women is you're crazy. (Laughter and applause.) You're crazy. You're the same guys I hung out with in my neighborhood. (Laughter.) When it came time to picking a team, you were the guys I wanted on my team. I usually got them, too. (Laughter.) You're the guys, and women, who have that grit and determination that was communicated to the whole world.

You know, you guys jump off the back of the apparatus after a fire, and the interesting part that not as many Americans know is you take off that gear, and half the time some of you are hustling to get out of the fire hall, because you got to coach your daughter in her Little League game; you got to go to the Pop Warner game; you got to make sure that you show up with that group of people you help organize to build that ramp for the veteran who was paralyzed in Afghanistan or in Iraq.