PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria Fire Department has launched their first apprenticeship program. It is a three-year program designed to train and educate those between the ages of 18-21 about the firefighter profession.

The department has been working on the creation of this program since last year. It’s meant to create opportunities for young Peoria residents while also diversifying the workforce. Peoria Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger said that while they only have 3 apprentices this year, it is a long-term process.

“We have this gap between 18 to 21 that we’re trying to fill, and we know that some people may look at this and be like ‘you’re only talking about 3 people,’ well that’s just the start, if we can show a level of success with this program, we’re hoping to be able to expand that from 3 firefighters to 4, 5, 6, wherever this leads us,” Sollberger said.

Even though they’re only a few days into the program, apprentices say they feel like a part of the group already.

“The trainers, the recruits, everyone around me, I’m surrounded by nothing but supportive family, and they do nothing but encourage me and help me do my best, to become the best firefighter that I can become,” said Cristian Alanis-Mata, one of the apprentices.

Chief Sollberger also said that the goal of the program is that by the end of the 3 years, apprentices will be trained and certified in all aspects of firefighting.