On any given day, members of the University Park Fire Department put mind and body at risk to protect residents from disaster, injury, or illness, and help their quality of life.
“We’re constantly taking care of people in those situations, but it typically doesn’t affect the fire station as a whole,” said Josiah Watkins, who’s served nine years with UPFD. “But when it’s one of your guys, it hits home.”
Rusty Massey is a battalion chief with the UPFD. The 44-year-old has 15 years of service with the station under his belt and an immeasurable amount of respect from his peers.
He’s a “doer,” as his stepdaughter Jamie Rendon says. He’s the kind of guy that likes to do everything on his own, even major tasks like remodeling his family’s home in Commerce, Texas.
But last November, Massey was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, a kidney cancer most common in men ages 50 to 70.
The tumor took the space of his entire kidney, which had to be removed in December. The cancer spread and attached on to his spine. Because of how it has spread, it’s considered a stage-four diagnosis.
“He’s always been the invincible man to me, so this kind of floored all of us,” said Rendon, who lives in Houston with her four school-aged children. “He thinks it happened to him for a reason and he feels like he’s meant to share this with all the other guys.”
Though Massey is a man who rarely asked for help, he never hesitated to give it.
Given Massey’s circumstances, Watkins decided he and the guys at the station could be that person for him.
“This was an opportunity for us to help Rusty in a time that he needed it, and for us to return that favor of brotherhood,” Watkins said.
Watkins and few others took into account all that Massey wanted to get done at the Commerce house.
With the funds that Massey had, he could take care of the basics and make the house livable. His other option was to go to the guys and see what could be done.
“We could either loan Rusty the money through our association funds, which is money we put in each month for issues like this and helping each other when somebody gets in a bind, or we do a fundraiser,” Watkins said. “We said if he needed the money, we’d give it to him, but we’re going to try the fundraiser approach, as well.”
Watkins set up a page on GiveForward, an online fundraising and donation website, last December. The page ran for four months.
During that time, guys from the station and a few from surrounding stations put in work at Massey’s home.
They essentially gutted the house down to the studs, rewired it, relocated windows and doors, re-did the floors, and put in a new roof.
More than $28,000 was raised for Massey’s cause, either in material or donation from the GiveForward page.
“They really are heroes to me,” Rendon said. “I could never thank them enough for what they’ve done for my family. The community is truly lucky to have such amazing men be there for them in any time of crisis. Not only are they serving our community, but they really are a family.”
The fundraising project has since expired, but the page is still up to chronicle Massey’s progress and ongoing efforts to support him.
In the eyes of Rendon and Watkins, this diagnosis has only reinforced that Massey is not only a “doer,” but also a fighter.
This story ran in the April edition of Park Cities People.