Cherokee Nation donates nearly half a million dollars to volunteer fire departments

May 8, 2017

(L to R) Whitehorn Fire Department Fire Chief Jay Stamps, Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Volunteer Firefighter of the Year Sean Goodwin, Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan.

CATOOSA, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation donated nearly half a million dollars Monday night to 131 rural volunteer fire departments during the tribe’s annual Volunteer Firefighter Ceremony at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.

Each year rural, volunteer fire departments rely heavily on the help of good Samaritans, fundraisers and membership dues to maintain their operations.

To honor them, the tribe donated each station a check for $3,500 to help with equipment, fuel or other items needed to protect lives and properties of families in rural northeastern Oklahoma.

The $458,500 total donation is a record amount and is set aside in the tribe’s budget each year.

“I believe the men and women who answer the call to be a firefighter deserve Cherokee Nation’s thanks and support. They are on call 24/7, 365 days a year, to ensure we remain safe,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “What they do is vital to our overall success in northeast Oklahoma. That’s why year after year, Cherokee Nation makes financial investments in rural volunteer fire departments so they can be better equipped to protect our families, our homes and our property.”

Spring Valley Fire Department in Cherokee County and Disney Fire Department in Mayes County were both recognized as 2017 Volunteer Fire Department of the Year.

The Spring Valley Fire Department, located north of Hulbert, protects more than 7,800 residents in a 77-square-mile area and in the past year has responded to about 150 calls in their community and neighboring Hulbert, Taylor Ferry, Gideon and Peggs, along with calls outside of Cherokee County.

Spring Valley’s volunteers also provide emergency responses for water rescue, search-and-rescue and fire investigations.

"Cherokee Nation's donation allows us to buy equipment that we need, like hoses, nozzles and tires," said Spring Valley Fire Chief Ronnie Smith. "It takes a lot of money to operate a volunteer fire department, and we don't have a lot of money. When you start buying fuel and insurance, it all adds up, and I appreciate everything the Cherokee Nation does for all volunteer fire departments."

The Disney Fire Department’s firefighters often find themselves maneuvering through trails and over rocks in the Grand Lake area to reach victims of rollover crashes that occur during popular rock-crawling events. Efforts of the department’s volunteers have helped save the lives of many, including victims who were in serious or critical condition and required medical helicopters once they had been rescued by Disney firefighters.

The department has 14 active volunteers.

"We really appreciate Cherokee Nation's help. It helps us out a lot," said Disney Fire Chief Larry Sanders. "We're probably going to use the funding to build a training facility."

The Cherokee Nation also selected five recipients for the 2017 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year awards:

• Allison Paige Long, of Langley, for saving the life of a boy involved in a head-on car crash last August. Long and her family drove upon the crash on Spavinaw Hill. She climbed into a crushed car and found a 12-year-old, who was in the backseat and not breathing. Long, a Langley volunteer firefighter since 2010, cleared the boy’s airway, controlled his bleeding and stayed in the car until he was freed. The teen is currently paralyzed from the waist down but survived due to Long’s training and response.

• Sean Goodwin, of Wagoner, for responding to a call with the Whitehorn Fire Department and reviving a child thought to have drowned in a lake. Goodwin relied on his training as a first responder and was able to save the child’s life.

• David Riggs, of Muldrow, for serving more than 17 years as fire chief for the Maple Fire Department. Riggs helped establish the department in 1995 and often used his own property to ensure firefighters had the equipment necessary to respond to calls. Even after stepping down as chief, Riggs continues to respond to nearly every call during the day, often alone.

• Chrix Hoxit, of Muldrow, for his commitment to the Brushy Fire Department. Hoxit established the “Ready, Set, Go” program to help the elderly be fire-safe. He also obtained grants for equipment and set up a program to help raise money for the Brushy Fire Department. Hoxit also works to keep firefighters hydrated and fed while they are fighting fires and networks with Cherokee Nation Risk Management.

• Jim Huyck, of Cookson, who donates 40-60 hours per week between the Cookson and Chicken Creek fire departments. Huyck helps firefighters stay trained on emerging medical services, allowing the departments to respond to medical calls. Recently, Huyck taught two extensive classes on medical response. His training allows firefighters to save the lives of others.