President Joe Biden made history March 6 when he addressed hundreds of IAFF members at the 2023 Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference. It was the first time in 25 years that a sitting president spoke at an IAFF conference.
Biden, a longtime supporter of the fire service, expressed his profound appreciation for fire fighters and EMS professionals, remarking, “People don’t appreciate you until they need you. When that bell rings … you jump in the truck, no matter what.”
Biden’s commitment to fire fighters has been evident throughout his career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, his American Rescue Plan helped cities hire fire fighters and avoid massive layoffs. “You all know, the only thing that protects you is more fire fighters,” he said to a round of thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Most recently, the president signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), providing federal fire fighters with presumptive benefits for cancer, heart, and lung disease.
Throughout his speech, Biden touched on many of the key legislative issues IAFF members came to Capitol Hill to advocate for. “Your job is about dignity and respect,” he said. “That’s why I fight so hard to protect your right to collectively bargain.”
In a passionate call to action, President Biden declared his support for the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act, which recognizes cancer as a line-of-duty death and ensures benefits for the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. “Get it to my desk, and I’m going to sign it,” he stated emphatically.
Reducing cancer deaths in the United States has been a top priority for the president and for the IAFF. After recognizing the devastating impact of cancer on the fire service, Biden reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring all fire fighters receive next-generation, PFAS-free protective gear, adding, “I’m determined to make sure you have the gear that protects you without making you or your family sick.” The NDAA included a provision requiring the Department of Defense to purchase PFAS-free gear when it becomes available.
“I have your back, I promise you. You had my back,” President Biden said, referencing the IAFF’s early support of his 2020 campaign, “I’ll have yours.”
General President Edward Kelly thanked Biden at the end of his speech, expressing his gratitude for the president’s steadfast commitment to the fire service.
“You are only person I ever hear saying, ‘The only thing that saves fire fighters is more fire fighters.’ You get us,” said Kelly. “You have clearly established yourself as the greatest president fire fighters have ever had. You’re making our very dangerous profession as safe as it possibly can be, one decision at a time, and we thank you.”