Cherokee Nation contributes $476,000 to northeastern Oklahoma rural fire departments

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is contributing $476,000 to 136 northeastern Oklahoma fire departments. According to a statement from the Cherokee Nation, the tribe’s annual contribution helps support volunteer fire departments, which otherwise rely on fundraisers, membership dues and the help of their communities’ residents to maintain their operations.

Hundreds of northeast Oklahoma firefighters gathered in Tahlequah, Okla. on May 19 for the tribe’s annual Volunteer Firefighter Appreciation Banquet. Each of the 136 fire departments received $3,500 to help with equipment, fuel or other items fire departments need to function throughout the Cherokee Nation Reservation.

The funding is set aside in the Cherokee Nation’s annual budget.

“In Oklahoma, the vast majority of firefighters are volunteers who risk their lives, not for the pay or the glory, but because they are public servants at heart,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

“Thousands of these men and women throughout the Cherokee Nation Reservation will leave their homes and their families at a moment’s notice to help protect and save lives,” he continued.

Keys Fire Department in Cherokee County and Disney Fire Department in Mayes County were recognized as the 2022 Volunteer Fire Departments of the Year.

Keys Fire Department was recognized for its willingness to assist neighboring fire departments in Cherokee County with training, mutual assistance and covering neighboring districts when other departments were unavailable or in need of additional resources. Keys also help provide coverage for the City of Tahlequah when their firefighters were attending funerals or other community events.

“We pride ourselves in serving the members of our community and to be honored for something that we love to do is precious,” Keys Fire Department Chief Yogi Cole said.

Cole continued, “I’ve been in fire service 39 years and fire departments, especially small-town, rural fire departments, can stretch a dollar farther than any organization I’ve ever seen. We have short and long-term goals and the Cherokee Nation funding helps us accomplish those goals.”

Disney Fire Department was recognized for its commitment to lowering its ISO rating. Insurance companies use ISO ratings, which are graded from a 1 to 10 scale, to help establish fair premiums, and municipalities use the ratings as a benchmark for measuring the effectiveness of their community’s fire protection services. Disney lowered its ISO rating from a 9 to a 5, having added on to its fire department.

Additionally, the fire department also built a new rescue truck, added new equipment and focused on improved training. The departments continues to focus on improving its fleet of vehicles and equipment to continue providing critical services to the community, according to the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee Nation also selected five recipients for the 2022 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year awards:

  • Shane Richardson. Collinsville Fire Department, for his help during a highway traffic collision. Richardson came across a crash where a man had been trapped inside the vehicle, and the vehicle caught on fire. Richardson retrieved a fire extinguisher and clamed the fire while others who had stopped to help were able to pull the trapped and unconscious man out of the vehicle.
  • Jordan Lancaster, Whitehorn Fire Department, for his bravery and courage. Lancaster stepped in and volunteered to perform the role of safety officer when the department’s safety officer had to take a leave of absence. Lancaster was also a leader among firefighters when responding to structure fires. When a fellow firefighter fell through a floor at a structure fire, Lancaster helped rally those on the scene to quickly get the firefighter to safety. They continued to fight the fire and saved a significant portion of the structure.
  • BJ Barker, Tahlequah Fire Department, for his leadership among peers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Baker continued to respond to calls in the community during the pandemic and was a source of encouragement for younger fighters, making it his mission to check on their mental health during the trying times. He has also continued to train and was appointed to the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association Legislative Committee, which is responsible for promoting legislation that benefits firefighters across the state. He is committed to focusing on health, safety, training and improved equipment and funding for firefighters and fire departments throughout the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma.
  • Misty Martin, West Siloam Fire Department, for her passion to the fire service. Martin serves as assistant fire chief. Martin responds to the vast majority of calls received by the department and helps provide training and oversee day-to-day operations. Fellow firefighters recognize the heart, compassion and commitment Martin has for protecting her community and never giving up on attempts to save lives and property when responding to an emergency.
  • Rick Russell, Redland Fire Department, for his exemplary dedication to serving his community. Russell responds to nearly all emergency calls the department receives, often responding alone. During a structure fire in January 2022, Russell was first to arrive at the home, which was fully engulfed in flames. He was able to do a quick search for victims. While there were no people inside the home, Russell was able to find and save a family pet.

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