Biden visits Philadelphia to promote federal funding to reopen closed fire stations

The president spoke for about eight minutes at the firehouse before he headed to a fundraiser for his reelection campaign.

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (left) salutes firefighters in the audience as he arrives at Engine 13 in Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, for an event recognizing that the city of Philadelphia is receiving a 22.4 million dollar SAFER Grant, that enables the Philadelphia Fire Department to reopen three fire companies. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (left) salutes firefighters in the audience as he arrives at Engine 13 in Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, for an event recognizing that the city of Philadelphia is receiving a 22.4 million dollar SAFER Grant, that enables the Philadelphia Fire Department to reopen three fire companies. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Joe Biden visited Philadelphia today, his ninth visit this year. Biden met with firefighters at Ladder 1, a fire station in the Francisville neighborhood that closed during the recession 15 years ago.

Biden was in town to tout a $22 million federal grant enabling the Philadelphia Fire Department to reopen Ladder 1 and two other stations, Engine 6 and Ladder 11. The grant is part of a COVID-era reconstruction bill Biden signed in 2021, providing funds to local communities for various infrastructure and assistance projects.

“During the pandemic, we invested $350 billion in the American rescue plan in my administration. States and cities could use it to keep firefighters on the job, including here in Philly,” Biden told firefighters at the event.

Biden added a story about how firefighters saved his life when he suffered a cranial aneurysm while in Washington, and they took him to a hospital. He also recounted an incident where lightning struck near his home, causing a fire, and first responders saved his house.

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President Joe Biden greets firefighters in the audience after speaking at Engine 13 in Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, for an event recognizing that the city of Philadelphia is receiving a 22.4 million dollar SAFER Grant, that enables the Philadelphia Fire Department to reopen three fire companies. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“The most frightening thing anybody can do is run into a fire,” Biden added. “Almost anything else is less consequential but when the bell rings, you all just run toward it and you put your gear on, you jump in the truck and do what you got to do because being a firefighter isn’t just what you do, it’s who the hell you are.”

Governor Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, and the Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Fire Department Derek Bowmer joined Biden.

If Ladder 1 had been open, it would have been the closest station to a fire that killed 12 people, including eight children, at a Fairmount row home last year. Biden alluded to that in his speech saying, “maybe it would have saved some lives.”

The fire stations were closed when the city budget suffered a massive shortfall amid the Great Recession. After his election, Kenney and Thiel worked with the firefighters union to lobby for federal funding to reopen them. The grant will enable the city to hire another 72 first responders to staff the reopened stations.

“In my eight years as mayor, that was one of the saddest days that I’ve ever experienced – to watch all these brave firefighters try to save those kids and couldn’t do it because of the intensity of the smoke and the fire,” Kenney told attendants. “I sat on the steps, and I could see tears coming down their eyes. So I just want to let you know that I know how this means, what this means to you.”

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, left, and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, second from left, takes the lectern to speak at Engine 13 in Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, for an event recognizing that the city of Philadelphia is receiving a 22.4 million dollar SAFER Grant, that enables the Philadelphia Fire Department to reopen three fire companies. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Philadelphia has roughly 2,700 firefighters at 63 stations for a population of 1.5 million. Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said Biden’s presence in the firehouse Monday showed the Democrat “gave a damn.”

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“Not just about the city of Philadelphia, not just about those who run toward danger or the firefighters here at Ladder 1, the great women and men of the Philadelphia Fire Department, but he gives a damn about this community,” Thiel said.

Ed Kelly, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and Mike Bresnan, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22 also attended.

“When the worst happens, when those alarms go off, when everything and everyone you live is in danger, there’s no better sight in the world than a firefighter ready to go work,” Biden said.

Biden’s visit coincided with a planned protest by activists who took the opportunity to criticize the administration’s veto of a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza Friday.

Biden later attended a fundraiser where he was joined by Shapiro, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and other prominent local Democrats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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