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Palo Alto firefighter embarks on 700-mile hike for suicide awareness

November 15, 2023

Local 1319 firefighter John Preston has embarked on a 704-mile journey to raise awareness for suicide prevention among firefighters, emergency medical workers, and veterans.

This initiative, known as the “22 and You” hike, symbolizes the 22 veterans lost daily to suicide.

A personal mission

A personal mission driven by loss John Preston’s motivation for this cause is deeply personal.

Following the suicide of his older brother Michael, a fellow Marine and police officer, Preston was compelled to act.

“When I lost my brother, I asked, ‘How can I address the issue?’ and I was already working to end veteran and first responder suicide, so the irony of it was even worse,” he stated.

“Ultimately, I asked myself, ‘What can I do to change the world, to stop this from happening?'”

This Veterans Day, he set out on his journey with Cory, his wife, and a retired San Francisco firefighter, starting from Parris Island, South Carolina, and planning to end in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Previous expeditions in support of suicide awareness

A history of commitment and previous endeavors This is not Preston’s first such endeavor.

In 2020, he undertook a 630-mile walk along the California coast, carrying a 50-pound backpack containing his brother’s belongings.

During this previous hike, they were accompanied by fire engines and police vehicles for about 500 miles.

“We reached thousands last time, and my goal now is to reach millions and change lives,” Preston said. “I don’t want people to be aware, I want people to seek help.”

Local 1319 President Joe Penko expressed strong support for Preston’s cause: “On behalf of 1319, I am honored to announce and wholeheartedly endorse one of Palo Alto Fire’s own as he embarks on a remarkable journey to raise awareness for suicide prevention,” he said.

“John’s commitment to this cause hits close to home for many of us in this field, and John exemplifies the selflessness and dedication that define our firefighting profession.”

FSJA Comment

John Preston’s 700-mile trek is more than just a physical journey; it symbolizes the broader struggle faced by many in high-stress professions like firefighting, law enforcement, and military service.

Preston’s commitment highlights the urgent need for mental health support and suicide prevention efforts in these communities.

His efforts, especially following his personal loss, show an extraordinary dedication to change and hope.

By engaging in such a significant and challenging endeavor, he brings attention not only to the issue of suicide but also to the possibility of healing and support.

His story is a poignant reminder of the power of individual action in sparking broader social awareness and change.

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