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Code 3 Retreat gives first responders chance to rest and recharge

Posted at 7:10 PM, Feb 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-29 22:54:00-05

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — "Code 3 in the police world usually means a car is going lights and sirens and that it's an emergent call," said Code 3 Retreat co-founder Jennifer Browne.

Browne once answered those calls as a Colorado Springs Police Officer. The former detective medically retired in 2009.

"Probably the most challenging call I ever had was an 18-month-old baby that drowned," Browne said. "When I showed up I had to do CPR and be part of that investigation. I think a lot of responders we kind of bottle it up and handle it in our own way and many can't handle that."

Melissa Radke answered those calls, too, as an EMT.

"I was a first responder here in Colorado Springs for over 10 years," Radke said.

Brown, Radke, and Army veteran Rick Ward came together in 2022 to create a retreat to give first responders a way to relax and recharge. It's called Code 3 Retreat and its mission is to provide a strong and inspiring experience to people who have dedicated their lives to serving others, all for free. The idea was born when Ward attended a veteran charity fundraiser in Texas.

"I invited a first responder, I knew from Florida and we were just enjoying the event and he was like, 'Why don't we have something like this for first responders?'," Ward said. "I came back home and I'm like, 'Who do I know that's in the first responder world that speaks that language and knows what first responders go through?' I've never been a first responder and in comes Jenni Browne.

"This was a no-brainer when Rick called," Browne said. "I said, 'Let's do it. I'm all in.'"

Mountain Top Ranch
An aerial image of the Code 3 Retreat grounds at Mountain Top Ranch in Meridian, Texas.

The three-day-long retreat is held at the Mountain Top Ranch in Meridian, Texas.

"Skeet shooting, handgun shooting, they can do archery if they want," Browne said. "We sit by the fire pit every night. We have two massage ladies that join us on the ranch so they can get massages and that's at no cost to them. We have a private chef that caters everything to them. The chef does a sushi course for them, as well."

"It was breathtaking," said retreat participant Melissa Smith. "It was so quiet and beautiful. Every detail was thought of."

Melissa Smith and her three children

Smith attended the first Code 3 Retreat last June. The retired firefighter and single mom of three is currently an ER trauma nurse in Florida.

"We're not used to needing things or asking for things," Smith said.

Smith was one of eight other first responders from across the U.S. selected to spend three days at the retreat. Their transportation, food, and stay were all covered by the non-profit. A mental health counselor is available, too, but only if they want to talk.

"The mental health component that Code 3 put into the program is something like I have never seen any other group do," Smith said.

Browne said only about two-thirds of the participants said they were interested in meeting with the therapist.

"But all but one did," said Browne. "They weren't planning on doing it but I think based on the atmosphere at the ranch and how amazing it was (the therapist) would be like, 'Hey do you want to get in the ATV and go for a cruise?'. One participant and her were gone for three hours. This was one that said, 'No.'

Browne says the total cost per person is about $3500. It's a trip she and Radke know they would not have been able to afford in their previous careers as first responders.

"I know the stress that they feel," Radke said. "If somebody would've approached me to do that during my time, especially when I was full-time for 10 years, it would've meant the world because there's no way I could've afforded to go take a vacation like that, be exposed to something new with people around the US that do the same thing that we do."

"When I left there I told the Code 3 representatives, 'My tank is now full again, it made me whole'," Smith said.

That's exactly why the organizers behind Code 3 Retreat are on a mission to make sure as many other first responders as possible get that same chance to rest and recharge.

"The life that our first responders are living they are kind of running "Code 3" all the time and this is giving them a chance to slow down for a minute and relax and refresh and hopefully come home to their job and their families and their kids, and be ready to go again," Browne said.

The next Code 3 Retreat is March 11-14, 2024. If you know a first responder who would benefit from this retreat or you would like to help out, organizers want to know. Click here for more information.

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