PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — After last year’s staffing shortfall, Peoria first responders are working to increase those numbers and one department is implementing new methods to bring more people on board.

Peoria Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger said it’s been a rocky road trying to get the department’s staffing up to levels of the past.

“It’s been a struggle, there’s really no other way to put that,” Sollberger said. “We had 38 people apply, so it’s a challenge.”

Sollberger said the department lost 37 positions over a four-year period and also added 11 personnel thanks to a SAFER grant. He said at one point staffing dipped down to as low as 160 and now the department has 171 firefighters on the streets.

He acknowledged that interest may have faded in the field.

“When you’re constantly in the news about losing this, losing that, cutting manpower, tough budgets. There’s a reality to that and now there’s a ripple effect that we feel,” Sollberger said.

But Sollberger said the department is exploring other methods to bring people on board. One example that he said he’s excited about is the implementation of their 2023 Apprenticeship program, which will start in June.

“Sometimes you just have to be able to say we need to do something different,” Sollberger said.

Through the program, the department will hire three Peoria residents who will work and train for up to 36 months to become fully educated and certified professional firefighters.

“I want to get three city of Peoria residents that are interested in being professional firefighters and when we talk about our diversification of our workforce, that these three individuals mirror that,” Sollberger said. “Peoria firefighters have the ability on a daily basis to have a positive impact on somebody’s life. If that means something to you, apply for the city of Peoria Fire Department.”

Those interested in applying can do so at the link.

Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria said the police department has 200 officers which is short of its goal of having 222. But he said the actual available officers may fall short of that 200 number.

“We also have officers who are in training, we have officers who are going to the academy,” Echevarria said. “We have officers that are injured or not on duty, so that reduces our numbers.”

The spokesperson for the police department said they swore in six new recruits earlier in the week and they continue to use social media and community events to recruit more.

The Peoria County Sheriff’s Office also welcomed three new deputies this week.

According to a release, the men have military backgrounds and will begin training to help serve the county.