The retained firefighter model is no longer sustainable in Mid and West Wales, the region’s chief fire officer has warned.

Roger Thomas said younger people weren’t replacing older retained firefighters – trained volunteers who are paid for each incident they respond to – and that this trend only seemed to be heading in one direction.

Mr Thomas, who was addressing a Carmarthenshire Council meeting, also said Powys didn’t have any full-time firefighters at all based there.

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service currently has 702 full-time equivalent posts for retained firefighters – but the current cohort actually in the field is 574.

It has just under 400 full-time, or whole-time, firefighters. The service, which covers six local authority areas with a population of more than 900,000 people, also has 200 support services staff.

Mr Thomas said the availability of retained firefighters in the region at any one time had dropped from 90-95 per cent a few years ago to 83 per cent. In Carmarthenshire it was 80 per cent.

“That is a real area of concern for me,” he said. “That line is only going down.”

He added: “In my view, it’s unsustainable.”

Mr Thomas said the fire service had tried measures to recruit retained firefighters, such as liaising with local employers and offering courses, but something more radical is needed.

“This is a generational problem,” he said. “It’s not going to be fixed in a year.”

Mr Thomas said no retained firefighters were “getting wealthy”, and there were proposals to make the role more attractive in that regard.

He said the retained firefighter model had a “built-in delay” in terms of response times because the volunteers had to get to their local fire station to answer a call-out, but that these mainly rural stations cost on average £150,000 per year compared to £1.3m, for example, to run the full-time station at Llanelli.

Mr Thomas also said climate change-induced weather extremes were placing additional challenges on the service.

He referred to colleagues in England who dealt with 14 major incidents in one day at the peak of this summer’s record-breaking heatwave, and added: “That line is coming closer to Wales, as you know. This is a real problem – it’s coming and it’s impacting disproportionately on the fire and rescue service.”

Mr Thomas was asked by Llandovery councillor Handel Davies about reports of poor water mains pressure experienced by firefighters who responded to a major warehouse blaze in the town in September.

Mr Thomas said he had raised this issue with Mid and West Wales Fire Authority, which oversees the fire service and sets its budget, and also with Welsh Water.

He explained the “steady, slow flow” of water supplied to domestic customers did not benefit firefighters needing large volumes at speed.

He added that water companies often reduced water pressure to help mitigate the impact of leaking pipes, and also installed thinner plastic pipes through old cast iron ones, which reduced the flow.

His fire service has a “high volume” fire engine in Ammanford which connects to strategic water mains, and a water bowser in Tumble carrying upwards of 9,000 litres. Another bowser is to be stationed in Port Talbot.

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service’s budget for the current financial year is £53.8m. Just over a quarter of it comes from council tax payers in Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire via a levy.

Head of finance Sara Mansbridge said it was seeking a rise in next year’s levy of 9-13 per cent. She said 9% would represent a “standstill” budget whereas 13 per cent would allow declining retained firefighter numbers and other priorities to be addressed.

Cllr Alun Lenny asked if council taxpayers in rural parts of Mid and West Wales were subsidising those in urban centres like Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, where more full-time firefighters were based.

Mr Thomas said the service aimed to match its resources to demand, and rural areas could draw resources from urban ones in the event of a fire.

“It’s my professional judgement that Carmarthenshire gets a good return,” he said.

Powys, which hasn’t had a full-time firefighter station for a decade, has 18 retained ones.

Cllr Giles Morgan, meanwhile, asked if the fire service had the resources to deal with a major incident such as the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.

Mr Thomas said it was undertaking a “joint gap analysis” with other emergency services to better understand how to respond, and would be “in a better place” once the results were through.

“These events are thankfully extremely rare,” he said.

Mr Thomas said his fire service already had a couple of units to respond to “marauding” terrorists.