Little Cherokee Ambassador Steven Gourd; Little Cherokee Ambassador Maysi Fields; Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden; Keys firefighters Yogi Cole, Brandon Qualls and Bobby Jackson; Little Cherokee Ambassador Hunter Sanders (front); Principal Chief Bill John Baker (front); Miss Cherokee Whitney Roach; and Keys firefighters Jerry Hooper and Jamie Houston.

Published May 15, 2019

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation gave nearly half a million dollars to 136 rural Oklahoma fire departments Monday night during the tribe’s annual Volunteer Firefighter Ceremony at the new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah.

Each year, rural 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 $476,000, to help with equipment, fuel or other items needed to protect lives and properties of families in rural northeastern Oklahoma.

The funding is set aside in the tribe’s budget each year.

“Volunteer fire departments and the men and women volunteer firefighters who serve in them are protecting lives and property each and every day,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “They deserve the continued thanks and support of the Cherokee Nation, and that’s why the tribe proudly invests in rural fire departments every year. These funds ensure they can be better equipped to protect our families, our homes and our property.”

Kansas Fire Department in Delaware County and Keys Fire Department in Cherokee County were both recognized as 2019 Volunteer Fire Department of the Year.

Kansas Fire Department offers a strong level of service and support to its community and to neighboring fire departments. Firefighters with the department are known for reaching out to victims of tragedy to assist in their recovery, placing their community members first. They are also quick to assist other fire departments in times of need.

“I have an awesome team, and I wish we knew who nominated us for this award. We are shocked,” said Kansas Fire Chief Jason Martin.

In the aftermath of a tornado in 2018, the Keys Fire Department was able to assist a neighboring department in conducting a systematic search during the rescue and recovery efforts. The fire department is also proactive in its community, working with local schools throughout the year to teach fire safety and ensuring the department is represented at community events.

“This is quite an honor,” said Keys Fire Chief Yogi Cole. “We’re really proud of what our department has accomplished and really shocked that we got this award with so many good departments in the Cherokee Nation. The Keys Fire Department has had a good couple of years with a lot of improvements and growth. We’re progressing quite well. We’ve been working to gain new members and personnel, and that really helps our department.”

The Cherokee Nation also selected five recipients for the 2019 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year awards:


Brandon Qualls, of the Keys Fire Department, for his quick response to emergency calls during his 20 years with the department. Qualls is known as a leader in the department and is always one of the first to respond. Recently, Qualls arrived at a structure fire and rescued a German Shepherd. Qualls found the dog during his initial search inside the burning home. Qualls secured the canine, which was uninjured, inside a tanker truck until the homeowner arrived at the scene.

  • Roy Phillips, of the Illinois River Fire and Rescue, for his 30 years of service with the department, including acting as the first chief of the department. Phillips is known for his professionalism and for setting a good example for new firefighters. In one instance, Phillips sat with a frightened homeowner, helping to guard the house from a threatening wildfire throughout the night.
  • Billy Sanders, of the Disney Fire Department, for his selfless commitment to the department and the community’s citizens. Sanders ensures each call receives a proper response. After each call, Sanders is also sure to contact firefighters who had been involved in the response to check their well-being. He once responded to a call despite having a broken foot.
  • Waid Whitlock and Gilbert Moore, both of the Collinsville Fire Department, for working together to improve the safety of fellow firefighters. Recently, Whitlock and Moore chose to forego spring break plans in order to spend four days fabricating and building safety cages for one of the Collinsville Fire Department’s trucks. The changes to the truck added a level of safety for firefighters who use the truck often during the wildland fire season.

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