President Biden announces reopening of Philadelphia fire stations with federal funds

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)

President Joe Biden announced on Dec. 11 that the city of Philadelphia had received a $22.4 million grant from the federal Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program. The grant has allowed for the reopening of three previously shuttered firehouses. During his time in office, former President Donald Trump proposed cuts to the program.

The SAFER program is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist local fire departments in maintaining staffing levels necessary to protect and assist local communities.

The firehouses for Philadelphia’s Ladder 1, Engine 6 and Ladder 11 were closed in 2009 due to budgetary restrictions brought on by the Great Recession. The Philadelphia Fire Department said the grant would be used to pay, hire and train 72 firefighter/EMTs over a three-year period, then the city would cover those personnel costs. The department said the federal assistance would allow it to reopen the fire stations.

In 2022, a rowhouse in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood caught fire. Twelve people died, including eight children, making it the deadliest fire in Philadelphia in a hundred years. Ladder 1 would have been the closest station to the source of the fire.

Following the incident, Biden spoke to Mike Bresnan, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Paramedics, who told Biden of the need to secure more funding for its fire departments.

Biden appeared at the Ladder 1 firehouse to make the announcement.

“In the wake of the tragic Fairmont fire, my team worked with city officials and the mayor to help get them to apply for a new SAFER grant to bring the rest of the decommissioned companies back into service, including Ladder 1. As a result, the city just got an additional $22 million to fund salaries and benefits for 72 firefighters,” Biden said. “Starting today, for the first time in nearly fifteen years, this neighborhood once again has a ladder company on call twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, ready to keep them safe.”  (18:56)

In 2019, Trump proposed cuts to the SAFER program in his budget for the 2020 fiscal year. The Trump administration requested $344 million for the SAFER program, a reduction from the $350 million budget that had been authorized in the previous year.

A year later in 2020, Trump proposed more cuts to the SAFER program in his budget for 2021. SAFER funds would be reduced to $344.3 million, down from the $355 million authorized by Congress for 2020.

During his time in office, Trump was involved in multiple controversies relating to firefighters.

Following wildfires on the west coast in 2018, Trump blamed poor forest management and “gross mismanagement of the fires,” and threatened to withhold federal funding. Brian Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters, criticized those remarks as “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.”

In 2020, Trump criticized the International Association of Fire Fighters after they endorsed Biden’s presidential campaign, arguing that he had done more for firefighters than the “dues sucking union.”

In his first budget proposal released last year, Biden reversed Trump’s trend and requested that SAFER’s budget be increased. Under Biden’s proposal, the grant program would receive $370 million for the 2023 fiscal year.Ultimately, SAFER saw a budget increase in the Omnibus Appropriations bill passed by Congress that Biden signed into law in December 2022. Under that legislation, SAFER received a budget of $360 million for the 2023 fiscal year.