LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Los Angeles Fire Department is falling behind on its goal of hiring 165 new firefighters this year, after adopting a new method of whittling down the high number of prospective candidates to a more manageable group, fire officials told a City Council committee.

The department had to delay a training class that was supposed to start in March, and will now begin on April 6 “because we didn’t have enough applicants for a meaningful class size,” Fire Department Administrator June Gibson told the Budget and Finance Committee on March 23.

The delay was also caused by some candidates still needing to undergo medical and psychological evaluations, Fire Department spokesman Peter Sanders said.

Gibson said the department started running into trouble when trying to get enough people for the first training class starting in December. They wanted to hire 60 recruits, but ended up only being able to hire 43, she said.

The department has been using a new way of reducing the high number of people who typically apply for firefighter jobs, after the department faced criticism that its candidate selection method was too arbitrary and could leave out many qualified or minority or women candidates.

The new method — stratified random sampling — retains the demographic makeup after the initial applicant group that typically numbers more than 10,000 people is scaled down to a smaller pool of candidates.

Because of the way the new process was set up, the fire department has had trouble keeping a large enough pool of candidates in the running at various stages of the process to hire as recruits, according to Gibson.

About 300 applicants were selected last fall to continue onto the written test portion and other stages of the recruitment process, but a little more than 200 people actually showing up to take the exam, Gibson said.

The department has been working to build back its fire department staff after a five-year hiring freeze that started in 2009, and Gibson said she agreed with City Council members that “we can’t hire quickly enough.”

However, Gibson said it is likely “we’re not even going to be able to hire the 165 that we originally anticipated.”

“If we are able to graduate a 130 I think we’ll be incredibly lucky,” she said.