CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Across the country, many first responder agencies are struggling with employee shortages. Saturday, about a dozen came together in Champaign to recruit.

“I have not met a single other student at the U of I or that I’ve gone high school with that wants to be a cop,” U of I student Gabriel Donnelly said.

Times have changed for first responders.

“They feel like they’ll be vilified if they become a cop. And it’s not that I don’t have those same worries, but somebody has to do his job and you want the right people doing it,” Donnelly said.

Police departments aren’t the only ones struggling to recruit. Urbana Fire Chief Kent “Demond” Dade said every agency used to get hundreds of applicants.

“We’re getting to a point now where if between two departments you can get 100 applicants, you’re doing pretty good,” he said.

So, what changed?

“A lot of people are intimidated because they don’t understand what it is, what it entails, or what it involves to become a firefighter or a police officer, or even in EMS service,” Dade said.

Although application numbers aren’t as high as they used to be, the Urbana Fire Department currently has no open positions to fill. Meanwhile, the Champaign Police Department is looking for 20 recruits.

“There is some talk or at least some push to see if we can we do more than that, [and] we’d like to,” Lieutenant Aaron Lack said.

Donnelly said it’s “daunting” that so many agencies are hiring at the same time, and that people try to discourage him from pursuing a career in law enforcement.

“They go, ‘why are you trying to be a cop? You can make a lot more money doing something else, you could have a much safer job.’ But I studied what I wanted to study, and I’m doing this job because it’s what I want to do, I want to help people,” Donnelly said. “People are calling you when they’re having their worst day. And they really, really need somebody who’s going to help. And I feel like I could be that person.”

Recruitment fairs give people the opportunity to learn what the job is all about.

“One of the most rewarding things is that I get to work in the city, and I get to work with a great team of people. So I’ve been doing it now for – just starting my 25th year. And I can honestly say that I still love this job,” Lack said.

The Champaign Police Department has expanded their recruitment efforts in other ways, like offering a $7,000 residency bonus, or $20,000 incentive for experienced lateral officers.