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Rural Firefighters Welcome Possible Sales Tax Increase

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OKMULGEE COUNTY, Oklahoma -

Rural fire departments in Okmulgee County are working around-the-clock to put out fires that have already burned thousands of acres.

Those firefighters could get some help next month when voters decide on a sales tax increase.

The land is still smoldering southeast of Beggs and firefighters suspect someone may have started the fire on purpose. 

No matter how the fires start, some firefighters end up spending their own money to put them out.

Eight fires burning about 2,000 acres in Okmulgee County came with a price tag of about $30,000.

"It costs a lot of money and manpower. We worked into the night," said Okmulgee County Emergency Manager Tim Craighton.  

"I know of at least five tires that were ruined. Some of those tires cost upwards of $1000 apiece," Craighton said.  

Right now, rural volunteer fire departments operate on donations and subscriptions, with budgets of about $10,000 or less a year. 

Craighton said if a 1/3 of a penny sales tax increase passes on April 3rd, each fire department in the county would see about $3,000 to $3,500 each month. 

"They'll be able to update their equipment, get newer trucks. A lot of departments are working off of forestry donated trucks that are old military trucks. So, you take them to a fire and then you take them home and work on them, get them ready for another fire," said Craighton.  

That's exactly what the Okmulgee Fire Department is doing right now, fixing one of their brush rigs. 

"The heat got to it yesterday on a rural fire. Basically, when it blew the airline hose, the truck was down," said Okmulgee Fire Captain Mike Rice.  

Rice said his department is doing okay right now.

"If we can have extra money, it would be a blessing," said Rice. 

He said taking time away from another job and using his or her own money to pay for fuel and equipment is a reality for many rural volunteer firefighters. 

The emergency manager said many nearby counties already have this tax in place.

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