President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech brought a lot of attention to Washington, D.C., Thursday night. The Pittsburgh area’s congressional delegation took advantage of the moment by inviting local guests to the event who highlighted issues of special concern — rail safety and health care — and discussed an important slice of Pittsburgh history.

U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio’s guest, Mike Carreon, lives with his family on a 400-acre farm in Darlington in Beaver County — not far from the site of a toxic train derailment in February 2023.

The images of burning rail cars and black clouds of toxic smoke hovering over rural communities near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line shocked Americans. But memories fade as weeks and months pass. And that works to the benefit of those stalling legislative efforts to increase rail safety, Deluzio says. He’s an Aspinwall resident and a Democrat whose district covers Western Pennsylvania communities who faced chemical contamination as a result of the Norfolk Southern train disaster.

“I think time is on the side of the railroad,” Deluzio said. It’s always on the side of powerful interests with money, he noted.

Deluzio is co-author of the Railway Safety Act, which has support from both Democrats and Republicans. Still, that legislation is going nowhere in Congress because it faces powerful, well-financed opposition.

Deluzio isn’t giving up, though. He invited Carreon to Washington as part of an effort to get the legislation unstuck by keeping the issue of rail safety in front of the public.

Carrion, a Republican who serves as chairman of his township’s board of supervisors, says Darlington residents have a number of concerns as a result of the derailment, but “in the forefront of most people’s minds is long term health care.”

People wonder about the impact of their exposure to the mixture of chemicals released during the derailment and a subsequent “controlled burn” of vinyl chloride.

“People were exposed at different levels,” Carreon said. “There has to be something in place to monitor people’s health and have a plan of action.”

Deluzio agreed and said Norfolk Southern will be on the hook for the cost.

“This really affected a lot of folks’ lives, and there are people like us all over this country who demand to be treated with respect and dignity,” Deluzio said. “And taking some commonsense steps to make rail safer is about exactly that.”

Which brought the discussion back to the rail safety bill. Deluzio has urged House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring the bill up for a vote, but so far Johnson has allowed the legislation to languish.

The bill is necessary because railroad companies cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, Deluzio said. “They’re going to choose what’s best for the bottom line.”

Carreon saw reports of a Senate hearing on Tuesday in which Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio speculated that residents of East Palestine and nearby communities may “very well may have been poisoned to facilitate the rapid movement of freight.”

A portion of the Senate hearing focused on the fact that temperatures in some of the cars containing vinyl chloride were dropping instead of rising, a fact that Norfolk Southern contractors kept from those making the decision whether to release and burn the toxic material. Local and state officials were told rising temperatures risked a catastrophic explosion.

“Maybe at this point we can change the terminology to ‘unnecessary burn,’” Carreon said. “It looks at this point like they put dollars ahead of residents in Darlington Township.”

Money plays a big role in the legislative process, too. A report in the investigative news outlet The Lever revealed the conservative Koch network has spent nearly $8 million in lobbying against the rail safety bill and $1.4 million in support of lawmakers who are holding up the legislation. That report also noted the network has targeted Deluzio in the 2024 election. He faces opposition from Republican Rob Mercuri, who’s endorsed by a Koch-funded super PAC.

“They’re going to come at me, that’s OK, Deluzio said. “I’m proud of what I’m doing.

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-Swissvale, who represents the state’s 12th District, brought as her guest a man she called a “living legend” — John Moon, a former emergency medical technician with the Freedom House Ambulance Service. That service, founded in the Hill District, is known for revolutionizing the way in which emergency medicine is administered in the U.S. and around the world. 

Moon also served as assistant chief of Pittsburgh EMS. 

Founded in 1967, Freedom House ambulance met the needs of Pittsburgh’s African American residents who couldn’t rely on the city’s emergency services. Political disputes and racism shut it down in 1975, despite the service’s success. Moon wants to make certain its legacy isn’t forgotten.

Video from the U.S.  Capitol’s National Statuary Hall on Thursday showed Moon offering a history lesson to a gathering of reporters: “The EMS systems that are glorified throughout the country today began in Pittsburgh, in the Hill District, by a group of Black men that by society’s standards were the least likely to succeed,” he said.

Freedom House created the template by “designing the vehicles, the equipment that’s on them, the personnel training — we wrote the very first paramedic training manual that every paramedic in the United States was required to read.”

Unfortunately, he noted, many people today avoid calling an ambulance when they are ill or injured because they can’t afford the cost.

“One of the things that concerns me is the affordability of quality health care and the cost of medication, the cost of ambulance service and transportation back and forth from the hospital,” he said. “We want to create a system suitable for every citizen in this country.”

Last week, Lee introduced in Congress a resolution to honor the innovative work of Moon and his colleagues in the Hill District.

“The Freedom House Ambulance Service saved countless lives in Pittsburgh’s most underserved neighborhoods, and their legacy has saved countless lives across the country,” Lee said.

One last note on the State of the Union: A 23-year-old Pittsburgh woman who’s an apprentice with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 432 was one of first lady Jill Biden’s guests for the night.

Samantha Ervin-Upsher, a mother of  two,  met the first lady during a visit to Pittsburgh last July to highlight the Investing in America Workforce Hub in Pittsburgh, an initiative that seeks to utilize high schools, community colleges and unions to build career pathways to job opportunities that are funded by Biden administration investments.

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at