Lurkers to Responders

Convert Lurkers To RespondersLast week I wrote about the three types of members in every department. Just to recount, we had the lurkers, the responders and the lifers. I’m sure you could immediately spot who fit into what category in your department.

These categories fit into any fire or ems organization nationwide. Even the most highly regarded volunteer departments will have some form of this going on. Try as you may, you’ll never be able to completely rid yourself of any one category.

And it’s important that you don’t do that anyways. Imagine a department where if you had a change in your families needs, you were immediately shunned from the department. You could imagine you’d start losing members left and right.

I hope you’re not thinking this, but I’m sure it’s come across your mind once or twice. “But if they aren’t around, their useless.”

That’s bullshit. Sure, right now, they aren’t providing much value to your organization. I won’t argue that point. But if they’re fully trained, they’re 100 times easier to get active again versus a brand new member that has to go through the entire recruitment process, backgrounds, physical, then take a course and you hope that a year from now they are at least semi-competent at what they’re doing to have your back.

What I really want to talk to you about today is something that any department could take right now, put it to use and probably get a few of their Lurkers active again. I like immediate results, and that’s what you can get if you follow the guidance I’m going to give you below.

I’ll warn you. While these steps can work, I can’t guarantee their success. There are just too many other factors at play in your organization and these people’s lives that I have no control over, no matter how powerful I like to think I am.

But don’t let that discourage you from trying. If we never tried to face difficult things in life, we would still be living in caves and chasing down our dinner. It’s because of people that faced their problems head on and with confidence that we’ve come so far as a society.

Remember, what we’re focusing on here today is getting your lurkers, the people that used to be active but aren’t really anymore, back into the mix as Responders.

Now down to it:

1. Figure out why they left – This is the most important step in the process, because before you ever make contact with them, you should know what you’re going to focus on. Did they have:

a. Family problems

b. Work changes

c. Medical

d. Department Problems

You’ll want to be able to speak directly to the reason they slowed down their activity. Most likely you have some idea what drove them away in the first place. There may not be a lot you can do about the first three issues, but if there are department issues, why aren’t you addressing them?

2. Get in touch with them – Make it personal – Talk to these people. Don’t hide behind your brass and think that you can threaten them to come back through emails or letters. Remember, they’re volunteers. While many of them love the job, they aren’t dependent on it for survival. If you treat them like crap, they’re going to respond appropriately by quitting. Try reaching out in this order:

a. Meet in person – Sit down and talk face to face. You’ll get the absolute best info on whether they really are interested in remaining active with your department.

b. Call on the phone – You need to talk directly with them. If you can’t do it in person, try the phone.

c. Send an email – Everyone seems to default to email nowadays because it’s fast and easy. Don’t Do IT! Not until it’s your last resort for reaching someone. If you genuinely care about this person and getting them active again, a phone call is well worth your time and means a hell of a lot more to them.

3. Explain that you need them – Don’t try to be on your high horse here. Show some humility and the fact that the department needs trained and competent manpower, which is why you’re reaching out to them.

I’ve seen a lot of Captains and Chiefs sit back and play the “You need to respond or we’re going to kick you out” role. Guess how far that got them? Exactly nowhere. Those that were responsive to the threat were only active for a short time before they walked away, and the others told them to pound sand immediately.

I can’t stress this enough! Be a HUMAN! It’s ok to show your weaknesses and admit that your department needs help, especially if you’re appealing to people that were once an active part of that same organization.

4. Set clear goals for them – Great, so they’re interested in coming back, no we need to set some goals with a timeline.

a. Come up with the goals and time frame together – for example: “We would love it if you could make it to X number of drills by August 30th, and respond to 50 calls.”

b. This sets a clear expectation for them, there’s a solid goal with a deadline to meet. When that timeframe comes, if they aren’t even close to reaching the goal, it may be time to cut them loose from the organization, but at least you tried to get them active again.

c. If they came close to meeting the goal, that’s a good sign. They were putting in some serious effort and you can easily continue to work with them to get them back to the responder stage.

5. Continue to set new goals

a. You may need to continue to set new goals for these people until you see they are actively participating on their own accord. It’s going to vary wildly from person to person how much you need to hold their hand. I’ve had members come back and immediately into the full swing of everything, others we held their hand for nearly a year and still couldn’t make it all work out in the long run.

6. This will be a never ending process

I’m sorry, but even the best managed fire departments are going to have to deal with this problem.

So how can you make life easier?

Develop a process that you will always take these people through. I’ll outline a sample below, but having processes in hand will make your life a lot easier every time you encounter a lurker that you need to get active again. It takes the thinking out of the process and also creates a basic standard for you to access.

1. Identify why they entered the Lurker stage

a. Use this to appeal to their emotional side

2. Make contact

a. Meet in person or pick up the phone, avoid email or text.

3. Explain to them why you need their help

a. It’s ok to be vulnerable and explain that the department needs more manpower, you’re not giving them the upperhand, but you’re allowing them to see they are needed.

4. Set clear goals

a. Establish a baseline that they need to meet. You may already have these set in your bi-laws, but if not, set a mutually agreeable standard for them to meet.

5. Continue to set new goals

a. If they need to continuously be motivated, set new goals.

6. Develop a process

a. It’s going to be never ending. You may have to deal with it once a year or once every couple of years, but life will be easier if you have a process in hand.


It can literally be that easy to get some of your best members active again. But remember, it takes a personal touch. Don’t cop out and try to be lazy and send an email. Pick up the phone, schedule a time to meet in person and talk with them. Be a human, not a faceless boss. It will go a long way in your attempts to reinvigorate your department.


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Chris Lockwood

Chris is the own of The Bravest Volunteers. He's worked as a 911 dispatcher since 2004 and been a volunteer fire fighter since 2002. During that time he served as Captain before moving to a new town.

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Chris Lockwood

Chris is the own of The Bravest Volunteers. He's worked as a 911 dispatcher since 2004 and been a volunteer fire fighter since 2002. During that time he served as Captain before moving to a new town.