By JOSH NEWTON
Tahlequah should soon have an assistant fire chief after councilors voted Monday evening to re-introduce the position to the department.
Fire Chief Ray Hammons said the last time the position was held was about six years ago, when he was in that role. After he became chief, the city eliminated the assistant chief’s position.
Hammons said the new assistant chief will help with administrative duties and communications among staff, and will also assist the chief.
“It’s [a position] that I’ve been hoping for,” said Hammons. “It’s pretty vital that I have some help.”
Hammons and Mayor Jason Nichols cited several reasons for needing an assistant chief, including the recent construction of a second city fire station at Southridge.
Nichols said his only stipulation was that Hammons find money to fund the salary out of the established department budget. Nichols said Hammons did find the money for the rest of the budget year.
The new assistant fire chief’s annual salary will start at around $40,500, but could be higher, depending on level of experience.
Hammons said the intent is to promote into the re-created position, effective immediately.
Councilors also heard an update from Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Assistant Director Mike Underwood on efforts to bring the city into compliance with new federal narrowbanding mandates.
Underwood explained the city needs to fund several items to take the next step in the lengthy process. Federal authorities initially wanted the city in compliance by the beginning of 2013, but later said the change could be made once licenses were created.
Nichols said the council originally budgeted for the expense, but later reallocated the funds when officials believed the move could be delayed. But the federal government provided the licenses to the city’s three departments last month.
Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston expressed her concern at putting off action on the needed equipment updates after Underwood said those who ignore the federal mandate could face a $10,000 fine, per license, per day – which would amount to $30,000 per day for the city’s three licenses.
Underwood and Nichols both stressed the city should not be immediately concerned because the local government has been working toward the requirement and not ignoring it.
Nichols said the city will be able to take the funding out of operating reserve, but asked that he and Underwood be allowed to finalize their estimated funding request before the council takes action.