A long-serving Keighley firefighter who has just retired said he had loved his job, but feared for the fire service’s future.

Joe O’Keeffe, 50, worked his final shift at Keighley Fire Station last month, completing a 27-year career.

He said the technology available to firefighters had improved massively since he first joined. But he warned progress was being jeopardised by Government cuts, which he said were leading to falling numbers of staff, fewer fire stations and an attempt to raise the maximum age limit for operational firefighters.

Mr O’Keeffe, of Fell Lane, who spent all of his 27 years on green watch at Keighley Fire Station, said: “I’ve loved every minute of it really, and I’ve made lots of friends.

“It’s changed in many ways. The equipment has improved beyond belief, but it’s taken a big step back in that there’s far fewer staff.

“There were 72 full-time firefighters in Keighley when I joined and there’s 44 now. That’s mirrored across the country due to the cuts.

“There are 48 fire stations in West Yorkshire currently and there’s talk that by 2020 that could be reduced to as few as 30.”

He said negotiations were under way to allow people to continue serving as firefighters until the age of 60 instead of 55.

“It’s not workable,” he said. “You can’t work as an operational firefighter at 60 years of age. It’s a physically demanding job and a job that you don’t want to be doing until you’re 60. The future looks bleak – fewer people, fewer stations and an older workforce.”

Mr O’Keeffe said he would continue working as a driving instructor and would appreciate having more time to play golf.

“I’ve enjoyed being in the fire service, I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” he said. “I’d recommend it as a career to anybody and I hope that it doesn’t just become a job.

“I want it to be something that people will come and do for 25 to 30 years. Being in the fire brigade is a lifestyle. You’re also a fireman on your days off.”

A West Yorkshire Fire Service spokesman said the organisation was having to react to a massive drop in Government funding.

“We’re losing up to £18 million worth of Government grants in four years. That’s driving the pace of change.

“It’s a period of unprecedented change, but if we sit back and complain and do nothing we wouldn’t be able to preserve the emergency frontline service. What we have to do is spread things a bit more thinly, but still provide the best service we can.

“The fire service is far more efficient than it was. Twenty years ago West Yorkshire was seeing nearly 40 fire deaths a year. Now there are about ten accidental fire deaths a year. The proactive work we do is having a huge impact on the number of fires and severity of fires.”