St. Johns County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association Recognizes Vice Chair Sarah Arnold

On October 17, 2023, at the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners Regular Meeting, the St. Johns County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association honored Vice Chair Sarah Arnold, presenting her with a symbolic fire axe.

In 2022, the St. Johns County Fire Department suffered the loss of three firefighters within a span of five months. Engineer Garett Opper (4/27/22), Firefighter Matthew Martin (8/21/22), and Engineer Brandon Estes (10/2/22). Two of these losses were attributed to suicide, casting a stark light on the pressing need for intervention and support within the department.

Vice Chair Sarah Arnold addressed her fellow commissioners, just two days after Brandon’s passing, bringing awareness to the critical state of the firefighters and their urgent need for assistance. Former Fire Chief Jeff Prevatt had conveyed the department’s desperate need to her, and Vice Chair Arnold championed their cause. She proposed allocating $500,000 towards a groundbreaking firefighter mental health initiative.

The motion received unanimous support, setting in motion the most comprehensive mental health program the department had ever seen. Firefighters gained access to professional counselors well-versed in the unique challenges faced by first responders. Additionally, a fire department chaplain now leads a dedicated peer support team. This initiative has become an essential resource for numerous firefighters. More importantly, it has catalyzed a cultural shift, emphasizing that it’s acceptable “to not be okay.”

“Firefighters will never waver when it comes to protecting our citizens. The support from our Commissioners and the Interim County Administrator demonstrates that, in turn, they will protect our firefighters,” said David Stevens, President of St. Johns County Professional Firefighters. “As our mental health program continues to grow, it has the potential to not only save lives, but serve as a model for other first responder agencies.”