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Routine Tasks and impact on Volunteer Retention

Daniel C. Olsen, Senior Consultant, SDAO 

Routine tasks can have an impact on retention of volunteers. They can help build skills and confidence or they can be repetitive and boring. They can be confusing if there are different standards or methods employed. Especially for new volunteers trying to figure out who wants what and how. This confusion can lead to frustration and affect retention.


For example, consider putting emergency apparatus back into service after an incident. It is a routine task. You want it done efficiently and effectively in a minimum amount of time. The unit must be ready for the next response. You cannot afford to have a piece of equipment missing, a half-full water tank or an SCBA with an empty cylinder.


A simple task, properly performed, can serve to build:

  • teamwork – members being responsible to do their part and working together toward a specific goal of placing the unit back in service,
  • confidence – knowing what to do and how to do it in a timely manner,
  • trust – making sure any responder who will use the equipment will be assured it is ready. Members trust each other to do the task right.
  • A sense of responsibility in every volunteer, especially the newer and inexperienced members.

Completing basic, but necessary tasks will result in pride in a job well done and increasing personal satisfaction contributing to the worth of volunteer member, their importance and desire to remain a member of the organization.

This activity can also be helpful in developing leadership skills in more experienced members by having them direct and oversee the work. This includes face-to-face leadership (coaching newer members) and managing through others (delegation).


Allow me to offer for your consideration 4 S and Response Ready”.

The “Four S’s are:

  • Sort
  • Standardize
  • Shine
  • Squared Away

Response Ready includes:

  • Fuel (and lubrication levels)
  • Air
  • Water
  • Supplies

Sort” includes separating the clean and in-service equipment from that which needs cleaning, repair, or replacement. It also includes placing used/disposable items in the trash.

Standardize” is putting everything in its proper place. Emergency apparatus are famous for being organized and everything having a place and everything in its place. This includes radios and other communication devices.

Shine” means all surfaces (painted, plated, glass, rubber, and fabric) are clean, polished, and presentable.

Squared Away” is put everything in proper order and secured. This includes hose beds, covers, ladders and such.

Response Ready” includes:

  • Fuel level full (and oil and hydraulic fluids)
  • Air pressure (i.e., tires and SCBA cylinders)
  • The water tank is at full level.
  • Supplies necessary response are loaded on (i.e., hydration supplies for crew members)

NOTE: You may want to add specific items to meet the needs of your organization.


When the task of putting the emergency apparatus back into service, the officer-in-charge gives the Command:

 “Put Engine 1, 4- S and Response Ready”.

The officer in charge can assign this to an individual or team. The order is

Firefighter Jones, you’re in charge.”

The volunteer member (in this case, Firefighter Jones, will make a final check of the engine to ensure all tasks are properly completed.

When the apparatus is restored and ready, the officer-in-charge will ask the question of the person in charge of the crew performing the task,

“(Firefighter Jones) Is Engine 1, 4-S and Response Ready?” 

The response is either

Affirmative, Engine 1 is 4- S and Response Ready” or

Negative, Engine 1 is out of service because (reason stated)”.


While some may say this is strongly military (and it is), it provides verbal confirmation of the status of the emergency apparatus and a person takes responsibility for the completed task and readiness of the equipment. It is also commands in a non-emergency setting which conditions personnel to commands and responses at an emergency.

The 4-S protocol can be used for other basic tasks such as cleaning office space, training room, kitchen, or landscaped grounds, just to mention a few.



I ask you to consider how routine tasks can aid in volunteer retention.

Completing basic but needed tasks can result in pride while increasing personal satisfaction and a desire to remain a member of the organization.

An example is putting the engine or other emergency response apparatus back into service in an effective and efficient manner to ensure it is ready for emergency response.

Use “4-S and Response Ready” protocol to build trust, teamwork, confidence, and responsibility in your volunteers.

It can also help to develop leadership skills in more experienced members by having them oversee the task and verifying the task is properly completed.