Whitehorn Cove Fire Department was one of two departments recognized as this year’s 2024 Volunteer Fire Department of the Year by the Cherokee Nation.


TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is contributing nearly half a million dollars total to 136 northeast Oklahoma rural fire departments.

Each of the 136 fire departments is receiving $3,500 as part of the tribe’s contributions.

“These 136 rural fire departments are invaluable to our Cherokee communities. The brave men and women who serve on these departments leave their homes and their families to help save lives and property 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 through their service, but we know firefighters are selfless. Their efforts each day leave a lasting impression on the Cherokee Nation and the communities in which these men and women live. The Cherokee Nation and our communities 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.”

The tribe’s annual contribution helps support volunteer fire departments, which otherwise rely on fundraisers, membership dues and the help of their community’s residents to maintain their vital operations.

“All throughout the Cherokee Nation our volunteer fire departments are doing their best to keep all of us safe. They never know when that next emergency call might come, and the need for a firefighter to respond and help doesn’t consider whether that firefighter has been working hard all day or whether they have a family event to attend at that moment,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “Regardless, when those calls for help come in, volunteer firefighters stop what they are doing and go. They are a blessing to our communities and I’m proud we continue to honor them for their service each year.”

During the event Chief Hoskin also marked the one-year anniversary of Cherokee Nation’s largest contributions to first responders in Cherokee history, the 2023 Cherokee Nation Public Safety Partners Grant. Under that $13 million program, every first responder agency across the tribe’s 7,000-square-mile reservation was eligible for $50,000 grants from the $13 million one-time grant fund that closed last fall.

Fire departments shared in $6 million of the Public Safety Partners Grant fund. However, 27 fire departments did not apply for the funding. Chief Hoskin announced a two-week reopening of the $50,000 grant program ending May 24, 2024. Agencies that did not apply in 2023 can contact the program at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Disney Fire Department was one of two departments recognized as this year’s 2024 Volunteer Fire Department of the Year by the Cherokee Nation.

Disney Fire Department and Whitehorn Cove Fire and Rescue were both recognized as this year’s 2024 Volunteer Fire Departments of the Year.

Disney Fire Department in Mayes County has worked tirelessly to lower its ISO ratings over the past year, repairing trucks and fire hydrants and replacing critical lifesaving equipment. Members of the department generously contributed countless hours to this mission, and the result was a substantial lowering of the department’s ISO rating, which will in turn lower insurance premium costs for homeowners within their jurisdiction.

“The Cherokee Nation does show that gratitude to us for doing what we’re doing and they support us 100 percent. It’s a great honor to receive this award,” said Larry Sanders, training officer with Disney Fire Department.

Whitehorn Cove Fire and Rescue in Wagoner County has spent the past year implementing new standards and focusing on fire training for its firefighters. The department also installed seven new tornado sirens for its community and updated the department’s firefighter protection equipment.

With everything going on, it’s always good to have extra. With the price of everything going up – the price of trucks going up, supplies going up, the price of foam going up – everything’s just kind of doubled or tripled in price since 2019, so Cherokee Nation’s contribution is a big help,” said Jordan Lancaster, Chief of Whitehorn Cove Fire Department. “Thanks for everything you all do.”

During the event, the tribe also recognized the Cherokee Nation’s Wildland Fire Management team, which often works 16-hour days while on deployment, and frequently for weeks at a time. Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner recognized the program and presented honors to Regional Fire Management Officer Forrest Blackbear, Fire Operations Specialist Simeon Gipson, and Division Chief, Natural Resources Brent Gorhing for devoting their time and knowledge to build up the program.

The Cherokee Nation also selected five recipients for the 2024 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year awards:

Russell Yell, Mid County Fire Department. Yell has been a vital part of Mid County Fire Department for the past 24 years, having served as fire chief for the past 20 years. Yell is one of the first to respond and take action on the scene, whether it’s entering a burning building to check for individuals or rendering assistance at the scene of a car crash. Over the past year, Yell responded to more than 95% of the department’s calls for service.

Matthew Meredith, Tahlequah Fire Department. Meredith’s work as a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator helped identify three suspects who admitted they were involved in setting more than 20 fires and vandalizing numerous fire hydrants in Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah Counties. Without Meredith’s dedication to the fire service and his investigation into the arson fires, numerous additional fires may have caused injury to lives and property.

Barney Beaumont, Spring Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Beaumont has over 10 years of experience as a firefighter and during his time with Spring Valley, has been a leader not only on calls, but in performing everyday tasks to keep the department and equipment running. He’s known for his commitment to repairing trucks and equipment, performing other necessary maintenance, mowing the lawn and responding to service calls all while working a demanding job. He is known for showing grace and professionalism in handling difficult situations, and his fellow firefighters believe he is a clear example of the courageous and heroic efforts of a firefighter putting the needs of others before his own in service to his community.

Chris Lancaster, Jay Fire Department. Lancaster has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 35 years and responds to more than 95% of calls. He is dedicated to helping maintain the department’s station, equipment and apparatus. While on the scene, Lancaster is known to take care of others and ensure their safety. He uses his vast knowledge of the fire service to teach younger generations of volunteer firefighters.

Barney Grigg, Inola Fire Department. Grigg has been with the department for 50 years, and he provides knowledge and experience to other firefighters that is beyond compare. Grigg is quick to respond calls for assistance, no matter the situation, and is known in the community for going above and beyond for both the town and the fire department.