Seymour firefighter retires after 25 years of service
Mark Vehslage is quick to share the credit.
Whether it’s checking fire trucks and equipment, cleaning the station, fighting fires, or responding to a medical call or wreckage, the 25-year veteran of the fire department of Seymour said it has always been a team effort.
Although he might have the rank of lieutenant or captain on his navy polo shirt, Vehslage relied on his fellow firefighters to do the job of protecting and serving the city.
“I never, ever wanted someone to do something that I wouldn’t have done myself,” he said. “I was lucky to have guys who got it without being told. They knew what we had to do.”
Vehslage, 51, has had time to reflect on his career since his last shift in mid-April. With sick leave and vacation accumulated, he will officially retire at the end of July.
“It must be about time,” he said of his decision to retire. “I wish I had been a few more years old, but it just comes a time when it’s time. I need to be home. I loved being home. To be with my guys, to work with I miss guys, but. “
Fighting fires was not Vehslage’s first career.
After growing up on a cattle farm in Brownstown and graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 1987, he obtained a diploma in horticulture from the University of Vincennes in 1989.
Before Vehslage went to college, Mike Willey of Naturalscape Services told BCHS ag professor Bob Myers that he needed help with his Seymour-based landscaping business, and Myers suggested to talk to Vehslage.
“Mike stopped by the house one day and said he was trying to find some help. I was like ‘Well I’m going to try it’ and I enjoyed that,” Vehslage said. .
That summer, Vehslage said he learned a lot about landscaping from Willey.
“I’m telling you what, it was a big help because I enjoyed it so much,” he said.
Vehslage worked as a team foreman and designer for 10 years until he started his own business, Vehslage Landscape and Turf.
“With Mike, I did three major renovations to the hospital landscape, I did everything down in Tipton (street),” Vehslage said. “Any big bank, any big restaurant that was built in the ’90s, like Village Center, the bank over there, Steak’ n Shake, all the JCB branches, that was stuff in which I have been involved over the years.
His twin brother, David, also helped them.
“It was cool because I met a lot of people in town and I just enjoyed it, and you made a lot of friends seeing them every time doing their real estate work for them,” Vehslage said. .
In the meantime, in the early 1990s, he joined the Hamilton Township Volunteer Fire Department and completed his training as a First and Second Class firefighter.
Then in 1996, he participated in testing for the Seymour Fire Department and was among two hired out of about 90 people.
“I liked the chance to help people and to be there,” Vehslage said of his choice to become a firefighter. “When I got to that level, it’s very different from volunteering. You see things a lot faster than we would see on the volunteer side.… You have a chance to make someone’s day better there. where she’s headed because we’re seeing them at their worst times a lot of times. “
The fire department had also started running medical errands earlier that year, so Vehslage had to take emergency medical technician courses for six months.
“A lot of the guys here are paramedics now,” he said of the current crew. “We only have a handful of first responders, but most of the guys are paramedics or paramedics.”
Vehslage said the first call he answered with SFD was a natural gas leak at an apartment in Windhorst Court, while his last run was a woman who was seriously ill and had to be taken to hospital.
One of his most memorable calls came in the fall of 1996 when the Fraternal Order of Eagles building in downtown Seymour caught fire.
“To date, I have evaluated all the fires I have been in based on the heat of that fire through my mask,” Vehslage said. “It was like I had a blowtorch in my face. I felt like I had no gear to protect myself.”
A few weeks earlier, he had visited the building for the annual Liberty Under the Law banquet, which honored first responders.
“It was one of those buildings you walk into and I was like, ‘Man, if this place ever burns down, it’ll be a total nightmare because there are no windows, it’s a building. solid, ”” Vehslage said.
He also remembers his work during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The year before, David had started in the fire department. The two brothers were on duty that morning and worked on the landscaping in the afternoon.
“We went through that time and that time, a lot of things happened afterwards, things changed,” said Mark. “If you didn’t feel like you had to do something, then you were in the wrong business.”
Over the years, Vehslage said the biggest changes were in equipment and technology. The weight of the equipment used to fight fires has dropped by about 10 pounds, and thermal imaging cameras have become a useful tool.
“I remember our first ones that we got, they were like carrying a little TV,” he said of the cameras. “(Now) it’s a handheld, like a flashlight, that guys can attach to their gear and it’s part of their gear.”
Adding defibrillators to fire trucks has also been beneficial for medical races. Then, over the past year, Vehslage said they have used foggers and done a lot more cleaning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his career, Vehslage has spent time in the city’s three fire stations. Like all new firefighters, he started his first year at East Street headquarters.
He was then assigned to Fire Station 2 on Fifth Street as a horseman before becoming an inspector at headquarters.
Vehslage continued to rise through the ranks, serving as a Sergeant on Engine 1 and Lieutenant at Fire Station 3 on Meadowbrook Drive before retiring as Captain at Fire Station 2.
Although Vehslage may have held a higher rank, firefighter John Toppe has said he is a team player.
“There are people you really click with.… Dude, there’s no one better to work with,” Toppe said. “One of the best officers I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with people who tell you to do things. Mark has never been like that. He’s always been the guy who ‘we’re a team. “That’s what I think he thinks. He was never demanding. He knew what to do, and we did it.
Also during his tenure, Vehslage served as president of Local 577 of the Seymour Fire Union. In this capacity, he championed the careers of the city’s firefighters and helped organize fundraisers for Camp Hoosier Burn and provide scholarships.
He also loved that elementary school children visit the fire hall during National Fire Prevention Week and connect with various age groups in the community.
“It was always good to make a difference in someone’s life,” Vehslage said. “I’ve had some great guys that I’ve worked with, and these people in the community, when you go to the store and stuff, they see you and they like to visit you and see you. You have a chance to do. a difference in someone’s life life or day. “
Vehslage’s landscaping business merged with Premier Landscape Solutions in 2007, and his other career in the fire department is now coming to an end.
David remains in the fire department, but was injured during a medical visit about three years ago and is trying to return to work, Mark said.
Mark’s son Drew Vehslage graduated from Seymour High School in June and plans to carry on the family tradition by pursuing a fire science degree to become a firefighter.
“He grew up around these stations so I’m proud to see that,” Mark said of his son’s career choice. “It’s a good career. It’s a well paying career. The way firefighting is, it could go anywhere right now because every town, from the Indianapolis fire department to the river (Ohio) is hiring. We’re going to be the same way here. We’ve got a lot of older guys getting ready to retire. “
Name: Mark Vehslage
Education: Brownstown Central High School (1987); University of Vincennes (license in horticulture, 1989); first and second class firefighter and emergency medical technician certifications
Occupation: Recently retired after 25 years with the Seymour Fire Department
Family: wife, Tammy Vehslage; daughter, Katie Vehslage; son, Drew Vehslage