THE increasing age of the county’s firefighters is a ‘major concern’ to those at the helm.

Dorset Fire Authority has voted to raise taxpayers’ contribution to the service by 1.93 per cent.

This means that a Band D property will pay £1.26 more, paying £66.60.

But members said they want to see more money put into recruitment after Chief Fire Officer Darran Gunter revealed that 71 per cent of those on the front line are aged over 40.

There are no whole time firefighters under the age of 25, thanks to a seven-year recruitment freeze.

And only one manager in Dorset Fire and Rescue Service is under 40.

Mr Gunter said the ‘imbalance’ is becoming a ‘huge risk’ but cuts in the service need to be made.

There are currently 12 firefighter vacancies and this number is expected to rise to 19 by the end of the year, Mr Gunter said.

Cllr Philip Eades said he would only support the precept increase if recruitment was addressed as soon as possible.

Cllr Mike Byatt added: “It is critical that we have a workforce of fit firefighters.

“It’s the firefighters who are the bedrock of what we are here for – to provide a fire and rescue service to the public.”

Dorset’s level of total funding per head of population is the fourth lowest of the country’s 30 stand-alone authorities.

Wiltshire – the authority with which Dorset is in talks over a possible merger – is the second lowest.

Mr Gunter said he would take the issue of recruitment to the authority’s audit and scrutiny committee.

He said that ‘no other authority across Dorset, Bournemouth or Poole’ is in the same ‘league’ as the fire service when it comes to making savings.

He said the service is at the ‘forefront’ when it comes to this and staff are working ‘as hard as they can.’ Cllr Sue Levell said she didn’t believe anyone would complain about an increase of £1.26 which is ‘less than half the price of a cup of coffee’.

She added: “It is ludicrous to sit around here and talk about £1.26.

“I am 100 per cent behind the increase.”