Lexington firefighters use a water hose to help colleague fight cancer

jmadden@herald-leader.comJune 2, 2014 

Joe Vissing has battled fires for 16 years with the Lexington Fire Department.

There's an adrenaline rush —and fear — that comes from running into burning buildings, but his most recent fight is much different.

About two months ago, Vissing, 40, was diagnosed with stage 4 skin cancer after noticing a lump on his leg. He had no skin lesions, but cancer had appeared in his brain.

"I'm dealing with a different type of fear," he said.

Vissing never entered those burning buildings alone, and he's not alone in his bout with cancer. He has his wife, two teenage kids and his firefighting family.

For the past several weeks, his colleagues have launched a series of fundraising efforts — including a T-shirt campaign and a golf outing scheduled later this month — to help Vissing's family with medical bills.

But the Cold Water Challenge, for which people donate money to allow firefighters to soak them, is the largest effort.

Battalion Chief Joe Best said the challenge started as a fundraiser for a local charity. It has blossomed into a citywide fundraiser that has attracted the likes of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who was drenched at the water fountain near the downtown courthouse last week, and mayoral candidate Anthany Beatty, who made a donation.

Even Vissing has gotten soaked.

On Monday, the firefighters doused their largest group of people yet, resulting in the largest donation.

Employees from the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital donated $1,000 for 100 people to be soaked near the employee parking lot behind Commonwealth Stadium.

Vissing, a former UK Emergency Department paramedic, was overwhelmed.

"The love and support from people who know and love me ... there just isn't any words," he said. "My family is so grateful for everything."

When Vissing got the call about his diagnosis he was on duty at fire station 18 on Richmond Road.

"It was the biggest punch in the gut of my life," he said.

Since his diagnosis, Vissing has been getting treatment at KentuckyOne Health's James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville. He's had radiation and should start taking medicine in pill form in a few weeks.

Vissing said his illness has taken a toll on his family.

"We've had some good days and bad days," he said. "But we're fighting the good fight."

Fire Chief Keith Jackson said Vissing, who remains on the job, is determined to overcome the disease.

"Joe Vissing is a very strong and honorable young man," he said. "We rode emergency care unit five together, and I can truly attest to his never-give-up spirit and intestinal fortitude in fighting this dreadful disease."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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