It’s quiet at the firehouse—until it’s not: Six hours at IFD Station 17

by | May 31, 2023

You can drive by a place every day and never really see it. 

That’s how I felt about Indianapolis Fire Department Station 17, our local firehouse just a couple blocks east of 75th Street and Shadeland Avenue. We’re lucky to have people like this so close and ready to help, and I wondered what their lives were like on a typical day.

A Night in the Life of IFD Station 17 C Shift

Engine 17 heads out on a run

6:30 p.m. – “It’ll probably be a quiet night—but you never know,” 

I got to Indianapolis Fire Department Station 17 on a Wednesday evening in May as C Shift was eating dinner, and the firefighters insisted I have a plate with them. They were having barbecue, fixed in the station’s kitchen by Avery Lewis and Kyle Petroff, both “backsteppers” on the engine that night. They’re called that because in the days before enclosed cabs, firefighters would ride on the truck’s back steps, out in the open.

“It always happens when somebody comes out – things are slow,” said Dave Yeoman, the truck’s engineer. His job is to drive the Pierce fire truck to the scene, connect to a hydrant to supply water to the vehicle’s pump, and then operate the controls that send pressurized water to the hose lines.

7:14 p.m. – Things are slow…until they’re not. 

Suddenly, alert tones sound over the station’s PA system, and the four-member crew of IFD Engine 17 jumps in their truck. Yeoman is driving. Capt. Jeff Muszar, in the front passenger seat, is the officer in charge. 

The backsteppers and I are in the back of the cab in jump seats. A Tesla has slammed into a utility pole on Shadeland Avenue south of 75th Street. The driver isn’t hurt, but the wooden pole is snapped in two, and police block the curb lane so the power company can clean things up. 

The fire department is called out to treat the driver if they are injured and to deal with the car in case it catches fire, which doesn’t happen this time. Electric vehicle battery fires are relatively rare, but are still a concern for fire departments because they present special technical and safety challenges.

8:58 p.m. – A Fire Near Eagles Nest

There’s a fire in the residential area along 75th Street near the south entrance to Eagle Nest, which turns out to be someone burning wood from an old fence in a large fire pit. 

Indianapolis has an open burning ordinance, and this homeowner, whose blaze is crackling about 15 feet in the air, is out of compliance. Someone has called to complain, and Muszar, as the officer in charge of Engine 17, is cordial to the homeowner as he explains that the fire must be put out. “I’m not the fire police,” he says. “But there’s an ordinance, and someone around here is complaining about you.” The homeowner is friendly in return: “Well, it did get a little out of hand there for a bit.” 

9:26 p.m. – A House Fire Reported

We’re on a run to an actual reported house fire, assisting the Lawrence Fire Department on Stark Drive next to Fort Harrison. 

This is something of an event for the station because, by far, they handle many more medical runs than fires. 

Yeoman connects a hose and adds his water supply to help the Lawrence firefighters, who are attacking the blaze in a detached garage, preventing it from engulfing the nearby house. 

Flames are shooting high into the air when we arrive, and a building makes terrible sounds in a fire, the crackling, snapping blaze itself, and the weird pops and noises that sound almost like a thing in pain. 

Muszar checks with his Lawrence colleagues to see what they need while Yeoman runs the pumps. Lewis and Petroff are standing by in full gear in case other firefighters get trapped and have to be rescued. 

They are serious about safety. Seventy U.S. firefighters died in the line of duty in 2021, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and nearly 61,000 others were injured. An Indianapolis Star list includes more than 70 Marion County firefighters killed in the line of duty since Daniel Glazier, then the Indianapolis department’s chief, died in 1873 when a wall collapsed on him during a major blaze. 

This station lost a firefighter 35 years ago when it was part of the Lawrence Township department. David Edwards, age 28 and Lawrence Township’s EMS division chief at the time, was in a burning home when he fell through a collapsed kitchen floor into the basement. 

Muszar was with him on that run. “My best friend was Dave Edwards, who convinced me that I needed to be a firefighter,” he said. 

We were talking in his office, and the station – the house, as it’s called – was quiet between runs. It got quieter still as the captain talked about that February night.

“I rolled out with them on that fire,” he said. “We should have died as well, but we didn’t. It just changed my life in ways that you can’t explain.”

10:21 p.m. – Report of a Fallen Elderly Nursing Home Resident

Engine 17 is called out with the station’s ambulance to assist a fallen elderly resident of a nursing home. She is OK, but the medics take her in their ambulance to the ER. After about half an hour, Engine 17 is back at the station, where things are quiet for a while. Firefighters work 24 hours on, then 48 off. Though they can grab some sleep in the station’s dorm, a call can come at any time until their shift ends in the morning.

IFD Engine 17 Engineer Dave Yeoman standing next to a wall that has painted "17 Our Family Serving Your Family"

As Society Changes, Being a Firefighter Has Become More Dangerous

Muszar is the “house captain” for IFD Station 17, responsible for the facility. He grew up around here when 82nd Street was a two-lane road, and his 92-year-old father still lives nearby.

“I’m from here, so I’m glad to be able to come back to protect this area,” he says. 

But changes in society affect everybody, including the rescuers.

“We’re not just going out on fires or hazmat or car wrecks or medical emergencies,” he says. “We have a massive number of mental health runs, and we’re going out on overdoses now. These can be volatile situations, and that puts our lives in danger.”

Muszar and Yeoman, best friends, both plan to retire in three years. 

Yeoman, on the job for 28 years, started with Lawrence Township before it merged with the Indianapolis department in 2011. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and got his teaching license, but eventually decided to follow in the steps of his father, who had been a West Lafayette firefighter.

As the older veterans talk about their careers, they like what they see in the younger firefighters coming up. Petroff has two years on the job, and Lewis has one. They’re quiet, confident, very good at their jobs, and respectful toward the veterans. 

This Job is About Helping People

On the way back to the station from a run, everyone’s relaxed—no red lights, blaring horn and sirens now. 

Muszar and Yeoman are teasing each other over their headsets, with the backsteppers listening in over the background of radio calls. Muszar has a love of corny dad jokes, and the two younger guys in the back roll their eyes.  

Later on, as the clock nears midnight and members of the crew try to grab some sleep before the next call, Yeoman relaxes in a chair on the patio next to the station’s giant bay doors and says he’ll miss some of this.

“I look forward to coming to the firehouse,” he says. “This job is about helping people, and there’s a fun, family bond here.”

And evidently, no such thing as a “typical” day.

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