OSCEOLA COUNTY  — The Osceola County Sheriff's Office has increased their manpower by seven, but not a single police officer was hired.

The department recently instituted a Reserve Deputy program, swearing in seven reserve deputies on Feb. 2. David Turner, Gary Gregory, David Belden, Douglas Cocking, Shane Helmer, Derek Wing and Joel Yonkman will work as reserve deputies on a volunteer basis, providing support for deputies and assisting with public events, such as parades and festivals.

"This program is designed to give that back-up to our officers in single-manned units," said Undersheriff Justin Halladay. "It's great for public events where we don't want to take patrols off the road to deal with crowds, so instead the reserves can assist and help maintain safety."

Public safety is nothing new to the reserve deputies, as all of them are either paramedics or firefighters, Halladay said.

"All these guys have a vested interest in public safety," he said. "They serve their communities in those capacities and now they don't want to be police officers, but have worked to be the next best thing."

To be qualified as a reserve deputy, the volunteers underwent hours of training from the Osceola County Sheriff's Office over the course of a few months. The training took place on Sundays at the Reed City Fire Department, where they learned about topics such as ethics, criminal law, community relations and traffic laws. The reserve deputies also had to qualify with a firearm and pass a written and physical test, Halladay said.

Each reserve deputy was required to purchase and supply their own equipment and uniform. The only thing provided by the sheriff's office is the reserve deputy badges.

In order to keep their reserve deputy certification, the deputies will have to put in 140 hours of work each year, which breaks down into about one to two shifts each month, Halladay explained. The men will have scheduled shifts and also work as needed.

"We're excited to have them start working," Halladay said. "It will give us the option to put a second person in a car, so officers don't have to respond alone. It really does makes a difference for officers to know there is someone with them when they make a traffic stop, not just that there is another unit 20 miles away for backup."