Biden announces 3 decommissioned Philadelphia fire companies are reopening with federal funds

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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)

WASHINGTONPresident Joe Biden announced Monday that three decommissioned fire companies were being reopened with federal funding, including a ladder truck that would have been the closest responder to a deadly rowhouse blaze started when a Christmas tree caught fire last year.

The fire in the Fairmount neighborhood last year killed three adults and nine children, and was the worst fire in Philadelphia in more than a century. Mayor Jim Kenney said firefighters sat on the stoop in tears, unable to save all the victims. Biden said that had the company been operational, it might have turned out differently.

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“This neighborhood once again has a ladder company on-call 24 hours a day,” Biden said. “On the day of the Fairmont fire, if the company hadn't been decommissioned Ladder 1 would have been the closest truck to the fire. God only knows whether it would have been able to get there earlier ... and maybe save some lives.”

The president's brief remarks — roughly eight minutes before he headed to a fundraiser for his reelection campaign — come as he's trying to show the nation as 2024 looms how his policies are benefitting regular Americans with “kitchen table” problems. The Democratic president is also ramping up his fundraising as he prepares for a potential rematch with Republican former President Donald Trump next year.

During the fundraiser, Biden warned donors there would be a global outcry if Trump were to win.

“Folks, we are the essential nation, after all," Biden said. "We truly are. There’s not an international event that I’ve attended — not one — where the rest of the world doesn’t come up to me, leaders no matter what country they’re from, and say, ‘You can’t let him win. You can’t let him win.’”

There were roughly 100 people at the event.

Earlier, standing in Engine 13 Firehouse, Biden and Philadelphia leaders clapped as the truck hoisted up a ladder and the call went over the radio: “Ladder 1 has officially returned to service.”

The city of Philadelphia is receiving $22.4 million to pay for 72 firefighters’ salaries and benefits for three years. The money comes from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and was made available through last year’s budget. That means three companies — Engine 6, Ladder 1 and Ladder 11 — shut down during the 2008 recession will be reopened.

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.”

“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.

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