HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — It’s not easy being a firefighter, and in the midst of pandemic-related staff shortages, one of Alabama’s oldest fire departments now finds itself needing more applicants.

“We need people to come work with us,” Huntsville Fire & Rescue Chief Mac McFarlen said. “We need good, solid people to come work with us.”

Thursday’s roping and rappelling exercises at the city public safety training complex in the frigid cold weren’t just for show. It had a recruiting purpose.

“We’ve started doing this the last several months in our recruiting, as far as the recruiting part,” McFarlen said. “Now this goes to our training off time. Like I said this is part of our recruit training, but a lot of our other personnel this is just continuous training for them. They do this all the time just to stay up on all the techniques.”

It’s also to influence potential recruits that the life of a first responder might be for them.

“We’re looking for diversity in our recruiting,” the chief said. “We want our fire department to look like our community. And so we’re reaching out to all different communities to say, ‘Hey, this may be something for you.'”

That is, if they can do what it takes to pass the rigorous training required. Head of recruitment for the department Cory Green says current personnel numbers aren’t causing any operational delays yet, but the pandemic combined with staff retirements means the department needs help to keep up with the city’s growth.

“It’s more so trying to get the word out and let people know that there’s more to being a firefighter than just fighting a fire or any medical calls,” Green said. “And that’s what I was more so primarily trying to do this go-round.”

One recruit on hand, Cory Lange, said the nearly year-long process to become a firefighter is well worth it.

“It’s been exciting, and I’m excited to go to the academy,” Lange said. “I’ve been stopping at different firehouses, and kind of talking to the firefighters that are firefighters now, and getting an idea of what to expect during the academy. And I’m excited for it and I’m ready to start it.”

The next recruiting and training meet & greet is scheduled for January 29.