May 8, 2018
CATOOSA, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation gave nearly half a million dollars to 131 Oklahoma volunteer fire departments Monday night during the tribe’s annual Volunteer Firefighter Ceremony at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
Each year, volunteer fire departments rely on fundraisers, membership dues and the help of good Samaritans to maintain their operations.
To honor them, Cherokee Nation provided each department with a check for $3,500, totaling $458,500, to help with equipment, fuel or other items needed to protect lives and properties of families in northeastern Oklahoma.
The funding is appropriated in the tribe’s budget each year.
“Every single day in communities throughout the Cherokee Nation, the men and women of volunteer fire departments are on call,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Volunteer firefighters are committed to the communities they serve, and they deserve the thanks and support of the Cherokee Nation. That’s why year after year the tribe invests in rural fire departments so they can be better equipped to protect our families, our homes and our property.”
Langley Fire Department in Mayes County and Brushy Mountain Volunteer Fire Department in Sequoyah County were both recognized as 2018 Volunteer Fire Department of the Year.
Firefighters in Langley near Grand Lake spent their weekends going door to door installing smoke alarms for community residents. Their efforts saved a life when a home caught fire just a few months after the department installed a smoke detector, which alerted the residents to evacuate.
The Langley Fire Department responded to 340 calls in their community in 2017, and firefighters have spent nights and weekends training to better themselves as first responders. This year, the department plans to use Cherokee Nation’s donation to update equipment like self-contained breathing apparatus.
“We really appreciate what the Cherokee Nation does for us every year. The donation really helps the small departments like Langley, and it really means a lot to us,” said Langley Fire Chief William Long. “I’m really fortunate that we have 20 firefighters on our department who are all willing to do the training asked of them. We’re pretty fortunate.”
Firefighters at Brushy Mountain Volunteer Fire Department near Sallisaw have spent the past year working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Oklahoma Forestry Services, battling wildfires that charred nearly 4,000 acres of land in one month alone. Working with these agencies has presented the department with a number of learning opportunities.
“Our firefighters never give up and they work well with any agencies involved,” said Brushy Mountain Fire Chief Bobby Caughman. “They always watch out for each other. When we had a 500-acre fire, a 450-acre fire and a 3,000-acre fire in one month, they all showed up as soon as they could and they worked until the job was done.”
The Cherokee Nation also selected five recipients for the 2018 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year awards:
• Jerry Hammons, of Illinois River Area Fire Association, for his work in a senior leadership role as an active first responder. Hammons’ 30-year service to the department includes saving a number of lives as a skilled airboat pilot trained in water rescues. He dedicates hundreds of hours each year to training and fire department projects, and became trained in emergency medical response when a need for trained responders rose in the fire district.
• Tonya Broyles, of Whitehorn Fire Department, for traveling to Houston after last year’s devastating Hurricane Harvey and rescuing flood victims. Broyles, who is also a teacher at Porter Public Schools, volunteered to travel with a team to Houston, where they faced hazardous conditions while rescuing those impacted by the hurricane and subsequent flooding.
• Gina Buzzard, of Marble City Volunteer Fire Association, for her dedication and work ethic. Buzzard is a certified first responder and firefighter who has stepped up to serve her community. Last year during Thanksgiving, when many volunteer firefighters were out of state, the department received more than a dozen calls for help, and Buzzard responded to every call and worked the entire week.
• Chuck McConnell, of Chance Volunteer Fire Department, for saving the life of a gunshot victim. McConnell, a co-founder of the department and a captain to the firefighters, arrived at the scene when a woman was shot and found in critical condition. He used the skills he learned in a tactical combat casualty care course to quickly treat the woman’s nine gunshot wounds and keep the victim awake until an ambulance arrived. The actions of McConnell and other firefighters are credited with saving the woman’s life.
• Robert Long, of Ketchum Fire Department, for his 22 years of service as chief of the department and for his dedication to the community and fire department. Long recently stepped down as chief but has organized trainings for the fire department and responded to the vast majority of calls since joining the department in 1989. He’s known for helping farmers and ranchers by coordinating controlled burns of their pastures, and has donated his own time, equipment and food to areas impacted by natural disasters.