The Fire Watch seeks to engage businesses, philanthropies in effort to reduce veteran suicides

The Northeast Florida nonprofit, which trains citizens to help individuals in crisis, relied mostly on county and state funding through its first four years.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 4:27 p.m. May 9, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
The Fire Watch works to reduce veteran suicides.
The Fire Watch works to reduce veteran suicides.
  • Business
  • Share

After seeing consistently positive results in the three years following its founding, a Northeast Florida nonprofit that works to reduce veteran suicides plans to begin reaching out to businesses and philanthropic organizations for financial support to expand its reach.

The Fire Watch, which trains volunteers to recognize signs of crisis among veterans and connect them with suicide-prevention services, launched in 2019 with a near-term goal of helping reduce suicides among veterans in Northeast Florida by 25% in 2020 through 2022 compared to the baseline level in 2019. 

That year, the organization reported that 81 veterans committed suicide in Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Baker and Nassau counties.

In a recent online presentation, Fire Watch executive director Nick Howland reported that the organization had met its goal. The numbers:

• 43 veteran suicides in 2020

• 38 in 2021

• 59 in 2022 

“We’ve seen 103 fewer suicides since we began, which means 14,000 fewer community members mourning the loss of a family member, friend or loved one,” Howland said, citing a study by the University of Kentucky and the American Association of Suicidology showing 135 people are affected by every suicide.

Nick Howland

Howland is a Jacksonville City Council at-large member and a U.S. Navy veteran who served on the guided-missile destroyer USS Chandler and at Naval Special Warfare riverine unit SBU-22, according to his Council biography.

During the call, he said The Fire Watch began after the veteran community in the area began seeing an increasing number of reports of suicide among veterans. Research showed that veteran suicides in Florida account for about 10% of the nationwide number, and Duval County is among the Florida counties experiencing the highest rate.

To address the issue, The Fire Watch developed a method to enable veterans and non-veterans to help veterans in crisis. Modeled on CPR, the Watch Stander Program provides free training developed by the Veterans Administration to those interested in assisting veterans.

The training teaches participants to recognize the signs of crisis, ask if the person in crisis is considering suicide, validate the veteran’s experience and expedite getting them help. 

Howland said Northeast Florida offers excellent mental health and suicide prevention services for veterans both through the VA and local veteran advocacy organizations. In establishing The Fire Watch, he said, “the question became how do we get veterans to those services.” 

Howland said the organization set a goal of training 10,000 by the end of 2025. With 6,500 trained so far, he said, The Fire Watch is on track to meeting the objective.

There’s still work to be done. The increase in suicides in 2022 over 2021 was largely driven by a rise in Duval County, for instance.

To meet the ongoing need and expand to other areas, Howland said The Fire Watch planned to begin seeking more private-sector support after relying mostly on county and state funding through its first four years of operation.

“I think our model is proven, and we need the financial resources to expand that model in places where the network is needed,” he said. “What we’ll be doing over the next several months is reaching out to businesses, philanthropies, foundations and saying who wants to join us in the fight to end veteran suicide. We’re transitioning now, as we’re maturing as a 501(c)3, to traditional funding resources. We’ll be moving toward sponsorships, foundations and charitable donations.” 

Howland said veteran communities outside Northeast Florida noticed The Fire Watch’s results. He said he has spoken with Departments of Veterans Affairs in several states, including Missouri, Alaska, Maryland and Kentucky. 

For more information on the organization, visit or email [email protected].



Special Offer: $5 for 2 Months!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.