‘There were many signs:’ The Fire Watch touts three years of reduced veteran suicides in NE Florida

A local nonprofit aimed at improving veterans’ mental health is touting three consecutive years of reduced veteran suicides in Northeast Florida.


The program aims to train community members to recognize the signs of veteran suicide, to better connect them with the help they need.

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Every day in Florida, roughly two veterans lose their lives to suicide.

But new data published by The Fire Watch shows its efforts are paying off.

Veteran suicides are down 40 percent on average in Northeast Florida since the program started in 2019.

Ryan Haczynski’s neighbor and friend of almost 20 years Mike Chisler, a Vietnam veteran, died by suicide in 2022.

Haczynski was presented with the American flag from his friend’s funeral the following year.

“Even now, just thinking about it and really reflecting on it I’m kind of getting a little choked up just thinking about it, because he didn’t have anybody else,” said Haczynski.

After Chisler’s death, Haczynski learned of the veteran suicide prevention group The Fire Watch.

He took the organization’s free training program to learn how to identify veterans in distress and connect them with the services they need.

“In retrospect thinking about it now, and just having been through the training, there were many signs that could have been taken or interpreted as cries for help,” said Haczynski.

The Fire Watch originated here in Northeast Florida and has trained nearly 4,000 ‘Watch Standers’ like Haczynski in the region.

Last year, the program received $90,000 from the City of Jacksonville.

Navy veteran and Jacksonville City Councilmember Nick Howland (R-Group 3 At-Large) serves on The Fire Watch’s board of directors.

“I watched all of my peers go through the Global War on Terror. I watched relationships breakup. I watched them struggle financially when they got out of the service, struggle with a loss of sense of purpose and I saw veteran suicides,” said Howland.

Howland said veteran suicides are down 16 percent in the four major regions of the state where the organization is present.

That’s compared to an eight percent increase in veteran suicide throughout the rest of the state.

In Northeast Florida, that equals to more than 100 fewer suicides over a three year period.

“135 members of the community are affected for every suicide. So, if you have 103 less suicides, you have almost 14,000 members of the Northeast Florida community who are not mourning the death of a veteran family member, loved one or friend,” said Howland.

If you want to learn more or take the free training to become a watch stander, you can find additional information on Fire Watch’s website HERE.

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