1 of 2 | President Joe Biden exits Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday following a trip to Philadelphia, where he announced millions in funding for local fire departments and presided over the reopening of local fire companies. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Dec. 11 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden touted millions in new funding for U.S. firefighters during a visit to Philadelphia on Monday as three shuttered city fire companies were ceremonially returned to service.
The president announced $22.4 million in federal funds to boost firefighter salaries and benefits as he celebrated the return of firefighting services to Engine 6 in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood, Ladder 1 in the city's Fairmount section and Ladder 11 in South Philadelphia -- which all have been idle for more than a decade.
Flanked by Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, International Fire Fighters President Ed Kelly and others, Biden began his remarks by relating that he owed his life to firefighters in his home state of Delaware after suffering a cranial aneurysm during a snowstorm in the 1980s.
Biden said then-President Ronald Reagan sent Helicopter One to get him, but the storm prevented it from flying, so it was his local firefighters who fought the blizzard and successfully transported him to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
"I got there for a nine-hour operation that saved my life," he said. "Not a joke. My firefighters -- the guys I grew up with -- they saved my life."
Biden said the grant is provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's SAFER program, which delivers money to fire departments and volunteer firefighter groups to help them continue to deliver a new crop of firefighter trainees nationwide.
The latest grant will also cover the cost of reopening the three stations while providing funds to pay 72 firefighters over three years, as well as supporting a new class of trainees to join the Philadelphia Fire Academy.
Also during his remarks, Biden paid tribute to a family of 12, including nine children, who were killed when a Christmas tree ignited a fire that engulfed a row house in the Fairmont neighborhood late last year.
Local officials said that, if not for the 2008 cutbacks, more lives could have been saved.
"On the day of the Fairmount fire, if the company hadn't been decommissioned, Ladder 1 would have been the closest truck to the fire," the president said. "God only knows whether it would have been able to get there that much earlier to save lives -- would have responded, but maybe saved some lives."
Meanwhile, the two other stations being resurrected, Engine 6 and Ladder 11, were both shut down more than 14 years ago under the administration of former Mayor Michael Nutter as the city faced a massive budget shortfall amid the Great Recession.
Mike Bresnan, the fire chief of Philadelphia's IAFF Local 22, said Sunday that Biden had "kept his word" after he urged the president to allocate federal resources to put the station back in service following the tragedy.
"It's just unfortunate that it happened in the first place," Bresnan told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But one thing about [Biden]: He cares for people. You can see that."
Four years ago, Bresnan's union drew attention by endorsing President Donald Trump for re-election despite disagreements with the larger national firefighters union. The endorsement sparked a lawsuit challenging the process and seeking Bresnan's removal, but the case was eventually dismissed in April 2021.
So far, the local union has not endorsed a candidate for 2024 after the national union went with Biden in 2020.
Biden's American Rescue Plan included $350 billion for cities and states to pay firefighter salaries, while additional legislation signed last year provides individual FEMA assistance grants of $360 million under the SAFER program.
Biden has made numerous trips to Philadelphia throughout 2023 as the president prioritizes major policy actions in the crucial battleground ahead of the 2024 election.
In October, the president traveled to Philadelphia to announce $7 billion in federal funds to boost climate efforts in the battleground of Pennsylvania.
In July, Biden also showed up at a Philadelphia shipyard to announce the construction of a new offshore wind vessel as part of the administration's continued push on manufacturing and clean energy.
Philadelphia was also the site where Biden unveiled his federal budget in March during a speech that called on Congress to support his plan to extend Medicare and Social Security and reduce the deficit by raising taxes on wealthy Americans.
In February, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Philadelphia to announce $500 million in federal infrastructure funds to help fix the city's broken water system amid a nationwide effort to dismantle lead pipes.
Later in the day, Biden planned to attend a campaign reception in Philadelphia, the White House said.