LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Fire Departments across the country are struggling with hiring and retention rates and the Capital Region is no exception. Albany County Fire Coordinator Gerald Paris said that New York used to have over 100,000 active firefighters, but now they’re seeing only 40,000.

“There’s a massive decline,” Sheriff Craig Apple said. “We need people to come to your house if you’re having chest pains. We need people to respond if there’s a domestic or a fight outside. We need people to respond if your carbon monoxide or smoke detectors are going off. These people are needed and it’s been a nasty decline.”

They’re hoping a new expansion of Albany County’s Future Heroes and First Responders Explorer Program—which helps teens and young adults get a jumpstart on careers within the sheriff’s office, fire department, and EMS services—can boost retention. The Shaker Road-Loudonville Fire Department will now help train and mentor young kids, giving them first-hand experience in the field.

“These kids are like sponges,” Paris said. “If we can grab these kids at an early time in their life we may help them set a career path.”

Paris also said that obstacles like increased training hours and testing requirements make it harder for people to enter the field. “The biggest challenge that we have is the bar keeps getting raised higher and higher through standards and the amount of training that it actually takes to become a volunteer firefighter,” Paris said. 

In New York, you need over 100 hours of training to become a firefighter. Paris hopes this program will give interested kids a head start on that training, creating a new future generation of first responders. Interested families can call the fire department to fill out an application.