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Source: Make it Mesquite
City officials knew they were getting someone with plenty of administrative and educational skins on the wall – along with three decades of experience – when they made the decision last fall to bring Rusty Wilson on board as the Mesquite Fire Department’s new leader.
But what they also got was a man committed to serving his community away from the firehouse.
“Chief Wilson is an extraordinary professional and person,” City Manager Cliff Keheley said at the time of Wilson’s hiring. “His dedication to the fire service is matched only by his commitment to the communities he has served. The varied experiences and successes of his career – along with his passion for people – will make him a great fit for the men and women of the Mesquite Fire Department. His character will make him a great fit for our community.”
Perhaps a prime example of Wilson’s “fit for the community” can be seen in his commitment to the Special Olympics of Texas – a commitment that has kept him busy in several different roles since he first began volunteering in 2006. And a commitment he shares with Lisa – his wife of more than 30 years.
Wilson’s work with SOTX began when he received an email while serving as a lieutenant with the Irving Fire Department that was asking for medical volunteers to help with the SOTX Summer Games at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“I called my wife and told her I thought this would be great for our family to help,” Wilson said. “We were sold from the first day we volunteered.”
A year later another email arrived in Wilson’s in-box – this one asking if anyone could take the helm overseeing the Summer Games medical volunteers. And while they had enjoyed their experience from the previous year, taking the lead for an event that drew 7,000-plus athletes, volunteers and staff would be, in Wilson’s words, “a big thing to take on.”
“My wife told me to absolutely not put anything else on my plate and that we would just serve as regular volunteers,” Wilson said. “That was how I responded but I guess I was the only one to answer that email and even though I said no to coordinating things, that didn’t seem to be an option.”
Instead, SOTX sent a reply thanking him for volunteering to coordinate medical services.
“I was in big trouble until my wife read the email,” Wilson said. “We reluctantly decided to take on the role, loved it and I spent many years in that capacity until the Summer Games were moved a few years ago to San Antonio.”
Wilson credits Lisa for being a huge support – saying she did a lot of the work in the background. And he says the couple’s work during that time introduced them to lifelong friends who helped by providing medical support all those years.
His role as the Summer Games medical coordinator led to Wilson serving on the President’s Advisory Council and the State Board of Directors for SOTX. He now serves on the Law Enforcement Torch Run Committee, which is a fundraising branch for SOTX.
But with his medical coordinator role now in the rearview mirror, Wilson turned his attention to fundraising efforts for SOTX. In both Irving as assistant fire chief and at his last stop as chief for the Katy Fire Department, he organized Tip A Firefighter events that raised thousands of dollars.
Wilson’s plate has been pretty full since assuming his duties in Mesquite but he has still managed to do a little fundraising for SOTX by organizing two 12-member teams made up of Mesquite firefighters (and family members) who recently participated in the 12th annual Duncanville Fire Truck Pull. Besides raising money for SOTX, Wilson used the event to build department camaraderie.
“I love to get our spouses and families involved in fire department events and I was very pleased by how much participation and fun we had,” Wilson said. “We had one team that was very serious and competitive about their times but we also made it fun and had a team of others – including children – participate. I enjoyed getting to know some of the families I had not met.”
Keheley said Wilson’s affinity for going above and beyond made him not just a good choice to lead the 200-plus members of the MFD but a good choice for the Mesquite community.
“[He] has a great community mindset and I appreciate his efforts to involve more members of the department in community activities like Special Olympics and MDA's Fill the Boot Campaign,” Keheley said. “Building trust between the City staff and citizens is vital in our customer service efforts."
Wilson said that he’d like to not only see Mesquite fire families involved in community outreach efforts such as SOTX, he encourages others in the city to consider doing the same.
“I’ve always said that you can tell the measure of a person’s character by how much they help others, especially when it’s those less fortunate,” he said. “We can get in a rut of complaining about what we see happening in our world, what we see on the news, etc. Change your focus and help others. These athletes need you and you will be met with smiles, positivity and the most unconditional love you have ever seen. And you will be blessed.”
Smiles, positivity and unconditional love are indeed appropriate descriptors for Special Olympics athletes.
“Special Olympics athletes have the motto ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,’ ” Wilson said. “I think that says it all. Years ago [at a Special Olympics meet], one of the little girls fell and skinned her knee. As she sat on the track crying, the other athletes in the race stopped to help her and in unison locked elbows and completed the race – crossing the finish line together. I often think Special Olympics athletes have life figured out much better than we do.”
Wilson also recalls a time when he had a tough call to make in his role as medical coordinator at the Summer Games – a decision that caused initial dismay and heartbreak for an athlete and her parents but one that ultimately paid big dividends.
“A young lady was racing to qualify for the National Games and she began having an abnormal heart rhythm so SOTX left it to me to make the call if she could continue,” he said. “I sat with her parents – who actually had two daughters with special needs – and told them I had to pull their daughter. They cried as they told me they had only one race left before going to Nationals and it was something they had worked toward for years. I stopped all that. It was a difficult decision but when the family returned home, the cardiologist said it likely saved their daughter’s life. The mom later told a television reporter I was a hero but I quickly corrected her and told the reporter it is the parents who are real heroes. All those parents who take care of special needs children on a daily basis, now those are the real heroes.”
Volunteering with SOTX obviously isn’t a paid gig – even with a job as important as Wilson’s was. But he said he gets something much more valuable than a paycheck.
“It realigns my priorities in life,” he said. “I’ve always told my wife that it helps me recalibrate. I don’t see how anyone could volunteer for one of these events without realizing there are some things far more gratifying than monetary rewards.”
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