St. Johns County Fire Rescue gets $500K to address ongoing ‘mental health crisis’

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Help is on the way for the St. Johns County Fire Rescue in the middle of what some are calling a mental health crisis.

According to the CDC, EMTs are nearly one and a half times more likely to die by suicide than other members of the public. And first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

One St. Johns County commissioner made an emotional plea for help for first responders who are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events in their work.

“Gentlemen, my fellow commissioners, our men and women in Fire Rescue are in crisis,” Commissioner Sarah Arnold said.

Arnold made an unexpected plea for increased mental health funding for St. Johns County Fire Rescue during a meeting on Tuesday.

Arnold cited statistics saying depression is five times more likely for firefighters than the rest of the population and suicide is the leading cause of death among firefighters and EMTs.

According to the CDC, first responders may be at elevated risk for suicide because of the repeated exposure to trauma some can experience.

“They always show up when called and they never let us down. But I have let them down. We all have let them down,” Arnold said.

Arnold implored the commissioners to approve $500,000 in new funding for the department to go towards mental health services. It was an ask that was quickly and unanimously approved.

St. Johns County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Jeremy Robshaw said his department is grateful for the help.

“We recognize I think, first responders nationally, not just firefighters, firefighters, police officers. There is a mental health crisis and we got to take care of our people,” Robshaw said.

Robshaw said the money will go towards hiring a full-time Chaplain who is also a firefighter or paramedic. Fire Rescue will also contract with a professional mental health service that has a deep pool of resources.

“So when we have an event, something that is significant from, from a traumatic standpoint, with a department, we have access immediately to multiple counselors that can come in and and provide professional care,” he said.

Robshaw said it’s all part of a new mentality for first responders.

”I think that there was the old way that it was dealt with and that was different than what we recognize today as the way we probably need to be dealing with it. And that’s being open and honest about what we’re seeing and managing. I think that you look at people who’ve been in this career a long time, certainly those who have had past experience, whether they’re veterans, you know, it just starts to compound,” he said.

Anyone who is experiencing emotional distress or mental health crisis can call the national hotline at 988.

Here are some other available resources:

  • Text TALK to 741741 (suicide)

  • Text HOME to 741741 (crisis)

  • Children Home Society’s Family Support: Warm Line 1-888-733-6303 (chslistens.com)
  • United Way: Dial 211 for 24-hour crisis intervention and suicide prevention

  • Heretomorrow: Helpline in Neptune Beach available Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. — (904) 372-9087 (heretomorrow.org)

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