MID and West Wales fire and rescue service has recruited more retained firefighters after concerns were repeatedly raised about a shortage of younger candidates joining up.

Roger Thomas, MAWWFS’s chief fire officer, had warned prior to this year’s budget hike that not enough older retained – or on-call – firefighters were being replaced.

Fire services have a mix of retained and full-time firefighters, and in November 2022 Mr Thomas said the availability of retained firefighters in Mid and West Wales had dropped from 90-95 per cent a few years ago to 83 per cent. “That is a real area of concern for me,” he said. “In my view, it’s unsustainable.”

Something had to be done about this trend, which is not unique to Mid and West Wales – hence a significant budget rise from £53.8m to £63.2 million at the beginning of 2023-24.

But the hike caused consternation among the six councils in the Mid and West Wales area which fund the service through a levy, and there were calls for a new system of direct central government funding for what is an emergency service. Those calls have not abated after the fire service’s budget was increased to £68.5 million ahead of the 2024-25 financial year.

In answer to questions from the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mid and West Wales Fire Service said it now had 673 retained firefighters compared to 659 when the budget was approved last year.

The actual cover these retained firefighters provided was the equivalent of 566 full-timers compared to 563 full-timers last year. The lower increase in the full-time equivalent figure is because retained firefighters can commit to varying hours of service each month.

Meanwhile, whole-time firefighter numbers have increased from 409 last year to 416 in March this year.

Assistant chief fire officer Craig Flannery said just over 10 per cent of the retained firefighter workforce was still above the retirement age of 55, highlighting its ageing profile.

“It is still early days as we set out to address a generational issue around the staffing of our on-call stations, and some of our improvements will take 12 to 36 months to embed,” he said.

Pay for retained and whole-time firefighters went up by seven per cent in July 2022 and by five per cent in July 2023.

This accounts for a chunk of the budget rise, with Mr Flannery adding the early feedback from retained firefighters was positive.