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Fire Chief Matthew Ludwig Continues a Family Tradition


By Lindsey Pizzica Rotolo

Norfolk Volunteer Fire Department Chief Matthew Ludwig has been a member of the NVFD for 24 years, joining as an Explorer at the age of 14. Officers are elected every year from the 50 members, and 2017 marks Ludwig’s fifth as fire chief. He was first assistant chief for seven years before that.

The call to community service runs in the Ludwig family. Ludwig’s brother, Ben, is the captain of Winsted Engine 1 and both of Ludwig’s parents, Judy and Ken, are members of the NVFD. Ludwig’s 15-year-old son, Casey, is an Explorer.

The Explorer program is sponsored by Boy Scouts of America and gives both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18 the opportunity to learn firefighting techniques at a young age. Norfolk’s Explorer Post meets the first Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m., right before the department’s monthly membership meeting. Explorers participate in drills with the fire department on the subsequent Monday evenings of the month.

Norfolk responds to eight to 10 house fires a year and answers an average of 150 annual calls, the majority of which are false alarms. The time the NVFD spends waiting for keyholders to arrive could be minimized, and the cause of the alarm could be more thoroughly investigated, if more homeowners took advantage of the Knox Box system that the department offers. The system consists of a mini-vault mounted on your home containing a master key and a security system that records the date, time and user ID for each key release.

Ludwig personally responds to every Norfolk call, along with the department’s line officers. He spent 250 hours in the last year responding to incidents and attending department training sessions and other department activities. The 250 hours doesn’t include follow-up with department members, mechanical work completed on fire equipment, attending meetings with various town committees, providing mutual aid to other departments and completing all the paperwork required of managing a volunteer fire department.

“It’s very involved, but the reward to me is being able to offer the best we can in fire protection and prevention for our small but very active community here in Norfolk,” says Ludwig. “One of my goals is ensuring that every officer has the ability to effectively manage a scene and knows how to mitigate emergencies safely and efficiently.”

But that’s just what Ludwig does in his free time—his day job is as a Litchfield County 911 dispatcher, a job he’s held for 15 years. Operating out of the Torrington Fire House, the dispatching service covers every town in Litchfield County except Winsted, sending fire trucks, police officers and ambulances to people in need. “It’s never quiet,” says Ludwig of work. “Highly organized chaos is the best description for it.”

Ludwig made regional news in April for successfully delivering a baby—over the phone—a feat he shrugs off as just another day at the office. “It’s like one of those choose-your-own-ending books when you’re a dispatcher. You enter the nature of the call into the computer and the Emergency Medical Dispatch program tells you what questions to ask. Based on the answers, the next set of instructions to give the caller pops up, relevant to their emergency.”

But to remain calm and stay on script is where aptitude and personality come into play. Ludwig, the longest serving dispatcher in Litchfield County, never loses sight of the main objective—getting the caller calm enough to tell you where they are and what the nature of the call is so the right help (fire, ambulance or police) can be sent quickly.

The Priority Dispatch system used at the 911 Center is used worldwide. They come up with the scripts dispatchers use to aid those in need, and the scripts are reviewed and updated as new lifesaving methods are discovered. When utilized properly, Priority Dispatch scripts have never been successfully litigated against. Dispatchers receive continuing education over the course of the year and must recertify every two years. Included in that recertification is a random review of the individual dispatcher’s calls, every single one of which is recorded and available for public record. “You can never question the integrity of the caller,” says Ludwig.

When asked if there was any specific day on the job that left an imprint, Ludwig didn’t hesitate for a second before answering. “There was a call from Morris awhile back where someone was leaving a family party, driving a dump truck, and backed over a two-year-old. I think about that every single time I put a truck in reverse.”

Ludwig is engaged to Lisa Richards, the executive chef at Norfolk’s Infinity Hall. They will marry this October.

Photo: Chief Ludwig is flanked by his son Casey,, a fire department Explorer, and his father, Ken, a former chief.

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