LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) – A creative plan to attract candidates is working in Wilson County.

“Even the departments surrounding us, they were like what did y’all do? Because, you know, nobody’s getting applications,” says Shannon Cooper the Training Division Chief with Wilson County EMA.

The excitement in Cooper’s voice was evident as she discussed the first call to unlicensed applicants.

“My HR Department was just like, oh my gosh, we’re at 160 something. We’re at 200,” Cooper recalls.

More than 260 people applied to Wilson County Emergency Management Agency’s creative call to attract candidates.

“We’ve been in the news for the last year,” Cooper says, “We’ve had so many shortages. It’s not just us. It’s like they’re leaving the field and going into all kinds of different areas and so we had to do something.”

The new approach allows anyone, with no experience, but has an interest in serving their community to apply. The age limit also dropped from 21 to 19.

“I think it attracts the ones coming out of high school and stuff that are not sure what they want to do. So they say, let’s try this,” Cooper says.

The department vetted these uncertified firefighters and EMT candidates and offered 167 to test. Of those, 88 people tested, and 44 made it to interviews.

“We really had some amazing applicants,” Cooper says.

17 candidates were hired and will start training on September 12.

“We’re going to start with an orientation,” Cooper explains, “Then we’re going to give them a two-week emergency medical responder course, then we’re going to do the 10 weeks of fire recruit training, which will have extrication hazmat and all kinds of stuff.”

It’s more work upfront, Cooper admits, but in a time when usually just a handful of people apply the entire team is pumped by the response.

“If we didn’t have the support of everybody in this department, there is no way this would work,” Cooper says, “But everybody has jumped on board, and they’ve been amazing.”

It will take 8 months for the new employees to complete all their certifications. The department is still hovering around 30 open positions, but notes this is a huge step in the right direction.