Britain’s fire brigades are sitting on an age time bomb after it was revealed two thirds of firefighters are over 40.
Recruitment freezes have left brigades bereft of new blood and as a result the average age of a UK fireman is now between 40 and 44.
Most fire services now only have a handful of permanent firefighters aged under 25.
Experts have warned local governments they are taking a “huge risk” and need to consider hiring cheaper apprentices.
Kevin Herniman, a South West Fire Brigades Union spokesman, said fitness levels were becoming a worry and the situation could get even worse if the Government raises the retirement age from 55 to 60 as suggested.
He said: “Because of budget constraints the authorities are not hiring people and that means we have been left with an ageing workforce.
“The average age in this region is between 40 and 44.
“The Government’s own Williams Report says only one per cent of the workforce will be able to maintain the required physical fitness until the age of 60. The majority, 99 per cent, will not.
“Their answer is only to hire super-fit human beings who can maintain that higher level of fitness over a 40-year career, but that’s not always going to be possible.
“They say people who are not considered physically capable should be redeployed but with everything being scaled back, the jobs are not there anymore.
“Firefighters do try to maintain that higher fitness level but if they can’t, for instance if they struggle to get back to fitness after a hip operation, they will be thrown on the scrapheap.”
He added that although firemen and women undergo regular checks to ensure they are physically and mentally up to the job, the lack of younger people coming through the ranks is storing up problems for the future.
A Freedom of Information request submitted across the South West revealed the scale of the problem faced by forces.
Councillors were so concerned in Dorset that last month they voted to raise taxpayers’ contribution to the service by 1.93 per cent, an extra £1.26 per household.
In Devon and Somerset 73 per cent of all permanent and 53 percent of all retained firefighters are over 40.