Vice President: 'You Can Count on Us'
Biden spoke at the 21st annual CFSI dinner

Posted: 04-03-2009
Updated: 04-03-2009 11:08:27 AM

Firehouse.Com News

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There was a familiar face at the annual Congressional Fire Services Institute's annual dinner Thursday night, but his title had changed.

As usual, the longtime fire service advocate received a thunderous ovation when he walked onto the stage. "Why wouldn't I come?," quipped Vice President Joe Biden, indicating that the annual CFSI dinner will always be on his calendar.

Biden said President Obama has already demonstrated his appreciation for responders' courage and dedication.

He added that Obama knows how important it is that responders be prepared every time they go out the door. "Our nation owes you," he said, adding that it's imperative that crews have the proper equipment to do the job.

The vice-president said it saddens him to read obituaries of firefighters who die on duty. He mentioned Trenton, N.J. firefighter Manny Rivera who died Wednesday, weeks after he collapsed after making a rescue at a fire. "He leaves five children ..."

Biden said he knows how important the FIRE and SAFER are to struggling departments across the country. Inadequate staffing levels not only put firefighters' lives in jeopardy, but the public's as well.

"This is about to change," he told the crowd of nearly 3,000, pledging to support funding to recruit and retain personnel. "... You can count on us."

It's a win-win situation. "When you are safer, we're all safer."

The vice-president said he's always enjoyed a close relationship with responders, especially those in Delaware. And, he admitted he still stands in awe of their raw courage.

Security was tight at the Washington Hilton throughout the day as personnel prepared for Biden's visit. People stood in line for more than an hour to walk through metal detectors before they were allowed to enter the ballroom for dinner.

A number of people who've gone all out to promote the emergency services' agenda were honored during the 21st annual dinner.

Two groups were lauded for their commitment to making a difference.

The Firefighter Near-Miss program and Common Voices were the recipients of the Paul Sarbanes award.

Amy Hultman, Near-Miss Program director, said of the honor: "This award belongs to the thousands of firefighters who have taken the time to submit a report."

The International Association of Fire Chiefs initiated the program in 2004 in order for personnel to share their stories about incidents so others could learn. They borrowed the idea from the airline industry.

Program officials say they believe the effort has been well-received because of the steps taken to protect the identity of the department and crew.

More than 2,600 reports have been submitted on a variety of issues. Responders around the world can log on to read the incidents, and learn.

"I am very excited to be included in a group of people who do such great work such as Common Voices," said John Tippett, program director.

He said he is pleased that responders believe in the effort enough to take the time to submit a report.

Amy Acton, of Common Voices, said it was an honor for the organization that promotes residential sprinklers to be recognized.

The effort was started in February 2007, when safety advocates joined forces. "There's a lot of passion and power in this group," Acton said, adding that there is strength in numbers.

Vickie Pritchett, facilitator for Common Voices, explained the organization's mission -- saving lives.

"Life is full of milestones, and tonight is a special one for our coalition. Common Voices brings out fire problem to life by sharing real life stories of both tragedy and hope."

"The greatest way that we can all honor the spirit of this award, is to take action, to take part ... America's fire service is under siege today by some in the homebuilding industry ..."

Steve Edwards, director of Maryland Fire-Rescue Institute, was lauded for his contributions to the fire service. He was the recipient of the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award.

During Edwards' tenure at MFRI, a number of firefighter safety research projects have received federal funds.

The Dr. Anne W. Phillips Award for Leadership in Fire Safety Education was bestowed on Pat Mieszala.

She was recognized for her countless hours of work to promote fire safety initiatives.