‘We are a bridge’: Revital Colorado connects responders with resources
After an ultimatum from his wife, former Firefighter-Paramedic Jordan Long realized the toll his career was taking – and took steps to help others thrive
In 2018, Jordan Long had nearly a decade of experience as a career firefighter-paramedic in Colorado – a profession he loved. He had a successful side gig in sports management and was married with a young family. Any observer would say that his life was going great.
Except it wasn’t.
Long found himself working stressful 48-hour shifts at the fire station and would then immediately transition to working three days straight at his other job.
“I thought I was doing what I needed to do to be a good husband and a good father. But the reality was that I wasn’t home much, and I wasn’t present when I was home,” Long said.
Eventually, his marriage suffered, and his alcohol use increased. Things came to a head when his wife told him he had to make a choice or he was going to lose his family.
Long realized his experience was not unique. Most of the guys on his first shift at the fire department had all been divorced at least once and many abused alcohol. He realized that the culture of his organization had started to affect him too.
“You become hardened. We’re running crazy calls and no one’s talking about it,” Long said. “There was no education on how to protect your family, or how to disconnect from work outside of the job. It was just push on. Suck it up.”
And that was how Revital Colorado was born.
‘A lifeline for our frontline’
Long had served as a peer support team member for his department, and when he made the wrenching decision to leave the fire service, his chief asked him to stay on as a volunteer to lead the team. In that role, he attended a conference in Texas that opened his eyes to new ways he might help other emergency responders.
Long’s department contracted for behavioral health services that were hardly being utilized – which didn’t surprise him.
“It’s not always comfortable to talk across from a clinician who we think doesn’t understand our job,” Long said. “We’d rather talk shoulder to shoulder with someone who understands our industry, at least to start.”
After the conference, Long started brainstorming how to better reach first responders who are suffering. A former college athlete, he immediately thought of his own hobbies: fly fishing, golf and other outdoor activities. He knew how restorative these activities could be for him personally; the same might be true for his former coworkers.
It started out small, with Long leading a few free outdoor activities each month, with a focus on fun and camaraderie. Initially Long was the only employee, with his wife assisting part time with administrative tasks.
But things have grown fast. In the span of just a few years, Revital Colorado has hired a second full-time employee, secured grants and large donor contributions along with business sponsorships, and established several large fundraisers, including the Battle of the Badges hockey tournament between police and fire, which raised over $85,000 last year.
The current Revital Colorado calendar includes a wide variety of available activities: hiking, sports, arts and crafts, horseback riding, a group motorcycle ride, a golf tournament. In addition, there are activities geared toward partners and families: a baseball game date night, a family day at a local ranch. One activity per month focuses just on the partners of first responders.
“There’s no formal agenda for the outings,” said Long. “We just let nature do what it does.”
Connecting first responders to the resources they need
As Revital Colorado grows, its offerings continue to expand and diversify. What started out as “free fun with a purpose” now serves as a conduit to a wide variety of health and wellness services for first responders, such as the recent 2nd Annual Level Up Wellness Conference. The two-day event included speakers, activities, networking opportunities and resources for first responders and their spouses or partners. The organization provides at least four retreats per year that feature outside facilitators and speakers with expertise in behavioral health.
While Revital Colorado does not have clinicians on staff, Long believes he is helping responders make necessary connections that allow them to access professional services.
“I have spent the last two and half years vetting different resources that are out there, and partnering and collaborating with the ones I feel are doing it right,” Long said. “We are a bridge to the professional support resources.”
Everyone who participates in a Revital Colorado outing fills out a pre-trip survey that asks about general health, anxiety levels, sleep and stress issues, and support availability through their own organizations. After the event is over, participants fill out another survey which evaluates the experience and asks about a participant’s desire to access additional resources. Survey responders can check any resources that interest them, ranging from counseling services to financial advice to nutrition and fitness. Then a Revital staff member follows up by sending each participant the relevant guides for those needs or interests.
While Revital started with a focus on fire and police, Long recognized that dispatch and private EMS have similar needs, and the programs are now open to first responders from those fields as well.
‘I knew something bigger was coming’
When he first started Revital, one of Long’s original goals was to make every firefighter in the state aware of the program: “I want to make sure all departments in Colorado know about our organization and feel comfortable about connecting.” While Long recognizes there is still much work to be done in his home state, his mission has already expanded past that. Now, conference and retreat participants come from all over the country.
Long has big dreams for the long term: “Our goal from the beginning has been to own a ranch where we can do full-time programming, where people can come for three or four days at a time and reset, reflect and recharge.”
For Long, though, the ultimate goal of Revital Colorado is for the organization to expand and thrive in the future, independent of his involvement. “We need more staff, so we can start to operate like a true business, even being a nonprofit,” he said. “I don’t want it to be centered around me.”
Long wants Revital to be sustainable as a business, but also recognizes that the organization is part of a personal mission.
Even as a young firefighter, “I knew something bigger was coming,” he said. “My goal is to help responders find purpose and identity outside of the fire service or law enforcement. It’s like a reservoir. It’s only as healthy as its inlets and outlets. Without the proper inlets and outlets, it grows stagnant. And if the dam isn’t properly maintained, it will fail and destroy everything below it.”