The Elgin Fire Department is facing a critical shortage as nearly half of the force's volunteers are close to retirement and there are not enough younger people in the rural community stepping up to replace them.

The volunteer fire department protects roughly 2,500 residents in the southern New Brunswick community, which is about 60 kilometres south of Moncton.

Elgin Fire Chief Gary Steeves said the volunteer department has not been able to replace their aging force with new and younger recruits.

The problem, Steeves said, is many younger people, who would normally have joined the volunteer force, are not willing to commit to the hours and training required to do the job.

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Steeves said that means older volunteer firefighters are continuing to do the job even if it is pushing them to their physical limits.

"I am scared. I see lots of guys out there lugging hoses and stuff that I know should not be doing it," Steeves said.

"But they are committed to doing this thing."

Nearly half of Elgin's 22 volunteer firefighters are over 60 years old and some can no longer physically perform all of their duties.

Capt. Winston Steeves, 69, said his days of running into a burning building weighed down with heavy air packs and rescue gear are over. He said his body just can't take that physical stress anymore.

"When you get all the equipment on and you are working under pressure, you know you could have a heart attack," he said.

The fire chief said the older firefighters are at risk if there is not a fully functioning fire crew in the community.

"If you have a huge fire and you've got guys maybe going down with heart problems and doing more than they should, that's always a concern of mine,:" Gary Steeves said.

He said the department's trying to recruit at least 10 new volunteers to ease the burden on the older firefighters.

Moncton's Regional Fire Centre says many rural fire departments across the province are in the same situation as Elgin and are struggling to recruit younger volunteers.