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President Joe Biden touts support for firefighters at IAFF legislative conference

President Joe Biden speaks at the International Association of Fire Fighters legislative conference in Washington on Monday, during which he highlighted his administration's initiatives and actions that he said were designed to increase firefighter health protections, as well as wages. Photo by Andrew Harrer/UPI
1 of 3 | President Joe Biden speaks at the International Association of Fire Fighters legislative conference in Washington on Monday, during which he highlighted his administration's initiatives and actions that he said were designed to increase firefighter health protections, as well as wages. Photo by Andrew Harrer/UPI | License Photo

March 6 (UPI) -- Recalling his own experiences of being helped by first responders in times of crises, President Joe Biden on Monday told a gathering of firefighters in Washington, "You've had my back and I'll have yours."

Speaking at the International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference, Biden highlighted his administration's initiatives and actions that he said were designed to increase firefighter health protections, as well as wages.

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The president recalled the different times when firefighters have assisted him and his family, such as rescuing his sons Hunter and Beau Biden after a fatal car accident that killed his wife, Neilia, and daughter Naomi in 1972. He also recounted firefighters transporting him to Walter Reed Medical Center during a snowstorm so he could undergo emergency surgery for a cranial aneurysm in 1988.

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"As long as I'm standing here, I will never forget what you did for me, for the country and for all of us," Biden said. "I promise you, you've had my back and I'll have yours."

Speaking to members of IAFF, a lobbying organization that represents more than 334,000 federal firefighters in the United States and Canada, Biden reminded firefighters of his administration's support on the issues important to them.

In December, the president noted, he signed the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act to have certain illnesses considered presumptive for firefighters because of the toxins they encounter on the job, including from the equipment they have been required to use, such as the heavy, protective turnout gear worn to fight fires.

Biden also signed legislation to fund research into Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, manufactured chemicals that have been linked to causing cancer and that have been used in firefighter gear for decades.

The heat-resistant jackets and trousers worn by many firefighters are known to contain PFAS. The forever chemicals are also used in firefighting foam. The chemicals are so dangerous that, according to Forbes, 3M -- one of the largest producers of PFAS in the United States -- said it will stop producing the chemicals by the end of 2025.

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Researchers have found a positive link between perfluooctane sulfate -- which are part of the PFAS family of forever chemicals -- and liver cancer. People with higher exposures to PFOS are more than four times most likely to develop liver cancer.

"I'm determined to make sure you have gear that protects you and doesn't make you and your families sick," Biden said. "Too many of you are dealing with cancer. The toxins on the job -- it's wrong. I have your back."

Firefighters' exposure to harmful chemicals has been an urgent concern for IAFF and its members, and the organization has planned a rally Tuesday at the Capitol to urge congressional lawmakers to take action to ban PFAS chemicals in protective gear.

Federal firefighter Mike Jackson introduced the president. He said he was diagnosed with cancer in 2021 and his diagnosis was connected to his profession.

"For years, the government has denied federal firefighters presumptive coverage," Jackson said. "This needed to change. Thanks to Biden, it has. Biden made the progress we've been waiting for. He's signed law after law to make sure firefighters have the support they deserve."

On pay issues, Biden touted to firefighters his administration's work on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which included a provision to temporarily increase pay for federal firefighters up to 50%.

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Biden went on to say firefighter organizations have been among the first to endorse him in his political career, noting they have continued to stand by him today.

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