Thirteen years ago, Brian Freeland found himself at a crossroads. Recently laid off from his job, Brian was searching for a new career or, more than that, a new passion. At the time, his brother-in-law was a firefighter, and Brian thought a job serving his community might be the ticket.
He entered EMT and fire school and, upon graduation, applied for openings in different counties across northeast Florida. As fate would have it, the Jacksonville native wound up accepting a position at a firehouse in St. Augustine. “It was kind of a natural progression,” said Brian. “It was a good opportunity. While I was in school I met some great people who worked for St. Johns County, so I developed some relationships there and it just worked out.”
Over the next decade, Brian’s new career path took him all over the county. His first post was at Station 14, on the corner of King Street and Holmes Boulevard. Though he began as a backseat fireman, within a year he was driving the station’s engine. That was when – at just the right moment – Brian’s path intersected with two strangers.
One afternoon in late January 2007, Brian was behind the wheel of Engine 14 returning from a brush fire out in Hastings when his sharp eye noticed some unusual activity just off State Road 207. Brian quickly turned the truck around. What he found was a Ford Mustang overturned and submerged in a waterlogged ditch with a couple still trapped inside. Along with the two fellow firefighters onboard that day, Lt. Marc Grabert and Darren Hendrix, Brian pried open the door, cut the two passengers’ seat belts, extricated the victims from the wreckage, and administered CPR until rescue crews arrived.
Thanks to Brian’s alertness, training, and rapid response, both victims survived. “It was definitely one of my most rewarding moments on the job,” said Brian, who received a commendation for his work that day. “We were just there at the right place and right time.”
Brian’s coworkers and supervisors soon came to realize the fortitude he exhibited that fateful day was just the beginning of his commitment to the community. Through many moves, from Station 14 to Station 16, then out to Station 4, and eventually to the county fire headquarters at Station 12, Brian earned the admiration of his peers while moving up through the ranks.
In 2016, St. Johns County formally acknowledged its appreciation by bestowing one of its highest honors on Brian, naming him Firefighter of the Year. “I was very humbled,” said Brian. “I work with a lot of quality people who are deserving of awards and accolades in so many ways. It was a big honor for me to receive the award and it felt really good to be appreciated.”
Now an engineer for the department, Brian has expanded his training to include a number of certifications including Hazardous Materials Technician, Urban Search and Rescue Technician, Marine Rescue Technician, and Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting response. He also added to his first responder skills by completing paramedics school.
It’s been over a decade since Brian Freeland stood at an important crossroads and made a choice. The path he chose to take wasn’t the easiest, but St. Johns County residents have certainly benefited from Brian’s sacrifices and perseverance. “It’s a lot of hard work and responsibility,” said Brian, “And you certainly don’t do it for the money. But it’s a fantastic job.”
Photography by Brian Miller