By JOSH NEWTON
Three new full-time Tahlequah firefighters are expected to begin their work in October after the city council approved the new jobs this week.
Tahlequah Fire Chief Ray Hammons said the department will now have 15 full-time firefighters who work 24-hour shifts, followed by 48 hours off.
Councilors OK’ed the hire of Jimmy Fort, Sean Valdez and Matt Smith, all of whom have been volunteering for the department. Each will start with an hourly pay of $13.53.
“We always feel like the volunteers should have the first shot,” said Hammons. “Volunteering is where the love of fire service starts; we were all volunteers before becoming full-time. It’s a blessing and a curse when you’re a fire chief who has to tell three volunteers, ‘Yes, you have a job’; and then tell four other volunteers they didn’t get it. All of them are capable, and all are very deserving.”
Hammons said Tahlequah’s firefighters all seek out advanced training.
“They have, by choice, chosen to step up,” said Hammons. “Our guys grab that training; they want that training. Because of the makeup of this community, there’s always a possibility of rope rescues, structure fires, and we have a high accident rate, which leads to the need for auto-extrication training. We have to do it all, so that’s why we train so diligently.”
Hammons expects the city to continue its pattern of growth, and said he’s appreciative of Mayor Jason Nichols, Assistant City Administrator Kevin Smith, and the city council for working to expand the department in recent years.
“With everybody working, this will give us three full-time firefighters at one station and two at another station,” said Hammons. “Of course, there are always sick days and vacation days in there, so there will be days that number is reduced, and there might be two at each station, or two at one and one firefighter at another. But always at least three full-time firefighters on shift.”
Hammons said that workforce has never been possible at the Tahlequah Fire Department.
“We’re glad to see our city is growing and allowing the fire department to grow with it,” said Hammons.