St. Johns County

St. Johns County Fire Rescue welcomes its new four-legged member, Garrett

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Reporting for duty is St Johns County Fire Rescue’s newest member — Garrett.

“He is incredibly intelligent. He’s incredibly loving and kind. And he’s slightly lazy,” St. Johns Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Brian Mitzel said.

On all four legs wearing his official red and black vest, packing lots of love, the retired service dog has a new job.

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“We just go around to the stations and meet people and see people and just make people happy,” Mitzel said.

Garrett’s handler, Mitzel, said it’s time we become more aware of the mental health stigma surrounding first responders. He said it’s fine to not be OK.

“The mental health piece in the fire service has been just missed for so, so long. And it’s all our fault,” Mitzel said.

That’s where Garrett steps in.

In the past several weeks that Garrett has been on the job, he’s already made a big difference.

“He’s been to three critical incident stress debriefings so far,” Mitzel said. “He’ll sense that somebody is upset and he’ll get up on his own and go to the person who you can sense based on their tone or the pitch of their voice that they’re upset about it.”

The 5-and-a-half-year-old dog is the first therapy dog placed at a fire station.

“The idea behind it is to kind of mitigate signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, stuff like that, before they really start to hit our first responders,” K9s for Warriors Manager of Programs Greg Wells said.

The station dog program is a way to bring a new purpose to retired service dogs.

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“There’s 300 and some change firemen personnel there and he’s making an impact basically from day one,” Well said.

Garrett has already made St. Johns County Fire Rescue his home.