TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation is disbursing $476,000 to 136 northeast Oklahoma rural fire departments as part of its annual contribution to support volunteer fire departments, which otherwise rely on fundraisers, membership dues and residents to maintain operations.
According to a CN press release, because of the pandemic the CN held a virtual ceremony to honor the firefighters in lieu of the tribe’s traditional in-person Volunteer Firefighter Appreciation Banquet.
Each of the 136 fire departments is receiving $3,500 to help with equipment, fuel or items needed to protect lives and properties of families throughout the CN reservation, the release states. The funding, which matched last year’s amount, is set aside in the tribe’s annual budget and stems from motor vehicle sales tax, according to the release.
“The service provided by these 136 rural fire departments is, in many ways, immeasurable. The brave men and women who serve on these departments often leave their homes and their families in order to help save the lives or properties of people they have never even met,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “We don’t always see first-hand the wonderful acts of courage and sacrifice they make, but we know firefighters are selfless, and their efforts leave a lasting impression on the Cherokee Nation and the communities in which they live. We owe a debt of gratitude to them, and it is an honor to know the Cherokee Nation is continuing to invest in these departments each and every year.”
According to the release, Spring Valley Fire Department in Cherokee County and Whitehorn Cove Fire Department in Wagoner County were recognized as this year’s 2021 Volunteer Fire Departments of the Year.
Spring Valley protects residents in a 77-square-mile area and often provides assistance to five neighboring communities, the release states. It also states that aside from traditional emergency response activities, the department worked each week to hand out food supplies during the pandemic, even delivering meals to homes.
“Our volunteers are truly dedicated to the service of the department, and they go above and beyond to serve our community,” said Spring Valley Fire Chief Ronnie Smith. “The Cherokee Nation has also helped us out quite a bit with funding during the year. They also help us with providing items like drinking water during times we need to distribute it to the people in our community.”
According to the release, Whitehorn Cove Fire Department serves approximately 10,000 residents and has worked during the past 10 years to lower insurance premiums for residents and businesses within its coverage area. The most recent ratings improvement received in just the past year is expected to save those within the fire district 40% in insurance premiums, the release states.
“Cherokee Nation has helped tremendously with what they do for the fire departments, the support,” said Whitehorn Cove Fire Chief Jay Stamps. “During COVID, we were having trouble getting supplies and the Cherokee Nation contacted us and asked us what supplies we needed for the safety of our firefighters responding to these calls. I had the stuff the next day.”
According to the release, the CN also selected five recipients for the Volunteer Firefighter of the Year awards:
• Craig Moore, Whitehorn Cove Fire Department, for leading with dedication and performance after serving for more than 20 years as a volunteer before becoming assistant chief. Moore is also being recognized for his ability to quickly size up a fire scene and make the right decisions that allow the fire to be extinguished, cutting down on property damage.
• James O. Miller, Spavinaw Fire Department, for sacrificing personal time to help maintain the department. Capt. Miller spends hours training and makes it a point to go out of his way to help others. He works as a training coordinator, ensuring new firefighters receive proper guidance as they join the department.
• Michael Heinser, Spring Valley Fire Department, for his dedication, loyalty, productivity, professionalism and extraordinary actions as a volunteer and leader. Heinser responded to an early morning structure fire during below-freezing temperatures and never wavered in his assistance at the scene.
• Richard A. Naus, Gooseneck Bend Fire Protection District, for his commitment to community during the pandemic, when the department’s first-responder call rate more than doubled. Those who work alongside Naus applaud his having nearly double the response rate to calls compared to other firefighters.
• Leroy Weddle, Shady Grove Central High Volunteer Fire Department, for his willingness to serve his community and other communities in need. Weddle assisted the Webbers Falls Fire Department after its fire station burned by taking equipment and a fire truck to Webbers Falls to help protect the community.