Vice President Biden's Remarks to the IAFF

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

Folks, the thing about you all that people don't get, is it runs through your whole being. The very thing that made you firefighters make you such darn good citizens. Think about it. Think about any other profession. How many people are so involved in the things in the community that matter to people's lives?

I know you like the excitement. As I said, you're crazy. (Laughter.) I know you like the excitement. I know it. But the thing you guys all try to hide is the pride you take in trying to help other people. You all go, yeah, yeah, yeah, right, yeah, right -- because it's not supposed to be. In a sense, that's a little bit too -- how do I say it -- that's not tough stuff. But that's what you guys have in your gut, a desire to help.

You know, everything you set your mind to, you succeed, because you're family. It's awful when a life is lost, but only you guys, cops and the military make sure, like we say -- they say in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Pakistan , we leave no one behind. Well, what people don't understand about you all is not only no one behind in the building; you leave no family behind who has lost someone in the building.

Folks, you know, look, you're the core of the communities we live in. And it's time we began to recognize your value. We did for that brief shining moment after 9/11, but it began to fade a little bit. It's time you not only got the momentary respect, but the sustainable respect you deserve. And by the way, don't, as I said before, don't tell me you respect me and tell me I can't organize. Don't tell me you respect me and you're not going to give me the sufficient training. Don't tell me you respect me and not give me the machinery and apparatus I need to do my job. Don't tell me you respect me and tell me I got to do my job with fewer people, knowing I'm putting my other comrades at risk. Respect is more than a word.

And so my objective and the President's objective is to institutionalize that respect. It's not just about saying when you do something for us, thank you, and I really appreciate it. It's about the institutional respect of giving you the equipment, the training, the manpower, the capacity to protect yourself and your communities.

Look, folks, I can still see that fireman on 9/11 as vividly as I did back then. I see the firemen who saved the lives of my boys. I see the firemen that saved my life and took me down -- got me to Walter Reed. I see the firemen standing out my side -- outside my house in a pouring rain, and a woman firefighter and a police officer, a woman police officer, giving my wife a coat to put around her, taking their coat off because she was in her bathrobe and it was soaking through.

I can still see those guys in masks looking through the windows, that I could hardly see into my home. I see it when I see each of you. I see it when I talk to Harold*. I see the embodiment of sacrifice and courage that gave America and continued to provide some of its backbone. And it's time we thanked you all for what you do. It's time we repay an immeasurable debt that we have you, not a political constituency, but to the men and women who personally change the lives of so many of us.

It isn't about -- you've heard this trite phrase -- Democrats and Republicans. Hell, some of you guys are still stupid enough to be Republicans. (Laughter and applause.) I don't get it. I don't get it. That's a joke. I say to the national press -- they clap -- it is a joke. It is not a gaffe. It's a deliberate joke. (Laughter and applause.) But guess what? Even you guys didn't vote for me, I still love you. (Laughter.) Not as much as I love the others, but I still love you. (Laughter.)

Look, this is about kinship of character and commitment to country. I'll remember forever how indebted I am to all of you. I'll remain forever your friend, no matter what you do. I love you all. And I thank you on behalf of our government. I thank you on behalf of our President. I thank you on behalf of the tens of thousands of people, the people just assembled in this room, just you all -- the thousands of people whose lives you've changed, who also owe you a debt.