Regional coalition to prevent veteran suicide, The Fire Watch, unveiled in Jacksonville

Ending veteran suicide

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Leaders from five local counties said they're coming together to end veteran suicide in Northeast Florida by creating a coalition called The Fire Watch.

They said at least 20 veterans take their own lives every day in America, and The Fire Watch will be a first of-its-kind agreement to save lives.

Medically retired Army veteran Jerome Jaques said he spent about 20 years in service, including time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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"The incident that caused my PTSD started in 2005 and in 2007, when I came back from Iraq, I actually had a suicide attempt," said Jaques.

He was there as Jacksonville Councilman Rory Diamond, along with Northeast Florida county government leaders from St. Johns, Nassau, Clay and Baker counties and others in the veterans' services community, announced the joint initiative.

The goal is to build a network of about 10,000 veterans and allies to give one-on-one assistance to veterans in crisis or those on the verge of crisis.

The name was chosen in honor of Marines who stand guard for others overnight or in the early morning.

In the same fashion, local leaders say the idea is to have veterans helping veterans.

"There's something terrible about just dialing a 1-800 number and getting someone who's in another state," said Diamond. "You need to get someone here in Jacksonville, who's going to talk to you, who knows your community, who knows what's going on. That's what we're going to be doing."

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"By the time we go to bed tonight, kiss our children goodnight, have dinner, 22 veterans would have killed themselves here in the United States," said St. Johns County Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker. "We refuse to accept that."

"While these men and women constantly put their lives on the line for us, it's our job and our responsibility to step up and do what we can for them," said Justin Taylor, chairman of the Nassau County Board of Commissioners.

"We anticipate, next meeting, the actual passage of the language that would bring us together in that five-county coalition," said Clay County Commissioner, Gavin Rollins.

County leaders are working to pass legislation for The Fire Watch by the end of October and by early 2020 they expect to roll out a mobile app and website for veterans and volunteers to sign up, to help or and find help.

Diamond says the federal government isn't doing enough, so regional leaders are acting.

"That's why you see these people passionate about it," said Diamond. "We're frustrated. We are tired of waiting for the federal government to act. We have to do it."

Diamond said The Fire Watch plans to have an official signing ceremony at Jacksonville City hall in early November.