The Fire Watch is Florida’s fight to end veteran suicide. In 2021, The Fire Watch created the Veteran Safe Place (VSP) program for businesses and organizations to show its support and help eliminate veteran suicide throughout Florida. The VSP program is designed specifically for organizations to educate, train and empower their employees to be able to identify and support a veteran in crisis.
Recently, the Tampa Metro YMCA partnered with James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Tampa General Hospital’s (TGH) Home Base program to offer a VSP for local veterans.
“The Tampa YMCA is committed to the health of our community, including mental health,” said Dawn Kita, Tampa Metro Area YMCA’s operations director of Community Health. “We chose this program particularly because MacDill Air Force Base is nearby, increasing the number of veterans in our area, as well as because we have veteran partnerships with the James A. Haley VA and TGH’s Home Base program, offering memberships to veterans through these programs. In order to best serve our veterans, we want to give our staff the tools to help veterans or anyone who may be in a mental health crisis.”
The Fire Watch Veteran Safe Place program began in North Florida and has recently expanded to several counties, including Hillsborough. “They train civilians to recognize the signs of a veteran in crisis and resources available to veterans,” Kita said. “Currently, there are 5,133 civilians trained as Watch Standers.”
Companies can become a Veteran Safe Place by training their employees as Watch Standers. To date, Tampa Y has 65 Watch Standers, a number that is growing as more staff participate.
“The more opportunities our community can provide to steer a veteran off a path toward suicide, the lower we can drive the rate of veteran suicide in our community,” Kita said. “Their objective is to reduce veteran suicides in our targeted geographic areas by 25 percent over the next three years when compared against 2019 baseline data.”
“We are building a lifesaving network of community members and organizations trained to identify the warning signs of veterans in crisis and to direct those veterans to the help they need,” Kita said.
If you’d like to learn more about the The Fire Watch program, you can visit its website at www.thefirewatch.org. The Tampa Metro YMCA is located at 110 E. Oak Ave. in Tampa, with branches throughout Hillsborough County. For more information about its Veteran Safe Place, you can contact the YMCA at 813-224-9622.