Building networks in the emergency services sector
Interview for Stories of INTERSCHUTZ with Matthias Ludwig, a German Fire Protection Association (GFPA) coordinator responsible for INTERSCHUTZ and a member of the INTERSCHUTZ Advisory Committee.7 May 2019
Hi Matthias, can you please give us a quick intro? Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m an agile guy in his upper sixties, married, with two children and four grandchildren. I’ve been involved in one emergency rescue organization or another since my teenage years. I’ve worked in various roles – mostly leadership roles – and at local, state and federal level. That was up until 2000. After that, I set up shop on my own as the owner of a private rescue and ambulance service, with a staff of about 140. I did that up until 2018.
These days, I’m doing what, in a very real sense, I have been doing all along: building networks in the emergency services sector.
Let me rephrase my opening question: Who are you, and how many of you are there?! Can you give us an idea of how many roles you’re involved in?
I’m involved in quite a few things, that’s for sure. My extensive network of contacts means I get invited to work on various committees as an expert rescue-sector advisor. I currently have about twelve different roles – on various committees, in clubs and societies and on advisory bodies, including the INTERSCHUTZ Advisory Committee.
What is your most important role? And what makes it so important?
That’s easy: I am a family man, first and foremost. My wife, children and grandchildren come first. Without them, without their love and support, I would not be able to do all the things I do. In terms of INTERSCHUTZ 2020, my most important role is as one of the INTERSCHUTZ coordinators at the GFPA.
It includes doing my best to manage the needs and expectations of the show’s non-commercial exhibitors. There’s another thing that’s important to me, and not just in terms of INTERSCHUTZ: I like to help bring people together, to get them talking to each other, and hence to make society a little less complicated and more livable.
How did you first get into the fire service/rescue sector? And what has kept you there so long?
That’s a story that began over half a century ago, when I was still a young man. It seems the people around me quickly realized that I had a certain talent for organizing things. And so, in Hannover, I became actively involved in building up the local rescue service for St John Ambulance, first on a voluntary basis, then professionally in various leadership roles. Even back then we had a close and friendly relationship with the fire service and other first-responder organizations.
And so it was that, in 1974, without any regulatory pressure from above, Germany gained its first-ever joint emergency control center – in Hannover. All of the participating emergency services voluntarily banded together to create a common emergency phone number. I very quickly realized that this kind of work is effective only if it is done in a team. It has to be a community effort. The fire service and emergency rescue services are like one big family. It’s of no benefit to the community if each agency works in isolation. No, they all have to pull together. Advancing and championing this idea is something I see as being extremely important. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
You’re quite a dynamo. To us, you have always been a fount of knowledge, always brimming with ideas. But do you ever have days when you’re not giving your work 110 percent?
Of course! As I said earlier, my family always comes first. Admittedly, they miss out a little now and then, but every so often I like put work to one side and focus on domestic life, walking the dog or going on short overnight trips with my wife.
Your great strength lies in networking. Has that always been the case?
That’s hard for me to judge, but I believe so. Getting things done requires committee work and lots of informal dialogue.
What, in your view, is the key to effective networking?
I could write a whole book about that. But the first step in effective networking is the realization that without networks, without relationships, nothing can happen. There’s an old saying that goes something like this: "Relationships are only bad for people who don’t have them." But seriously, the first step is to build trust. Other people will only be interested in talking to you if they can see some value in it for themselves. It’s also important to be proactive, and not just wait for the other person to make the first move and ask for your business card.
What are the most important communication channels for what you do? Face-to-face meetings? Phone calls? Facebook? WhatsApp?
All of the above. As you know, the classic modes of communication and networking have in recent years been joined by the likes of Facebook and co. Obviously, you need good time management in order to use all of those channels effectively. Having said that – and while all the new technologies have their place – the bottom line is that there is no substitute for direct, face-to-face dialogue. And if that means the occasional fun evening out and a little less sleep than you’d like, then so much the better!
How long in the mornings before you launch Facebook? And how many times a day to you check your timeline?
My first look at Facebook is first thing in the morning, just before breakfast. I’m an early riser, you see. Apart from that, I check it intermittently over the course of the day – during breaks at meetings or whenever I have spare time.
Do you sometimes have to be secretive about going online? Or are your family and close friends totally supportive of your work?
No, I don't have to be secretive about going online. My wife also spends a certain amount of time online. Not as much as me, admittedly, but she understands. Plus I try not to overdo it. The operative word there is "try".
What is your most enduring memory of your first-ever INTERSCHUTZ?
My first INTERSCHUTZ was in 1980 in Hannover. The huge array of vehicles and equipment and all the presentations was naturally very exciting for me. I also recall being impressed by the large fraternity of fire service and rescue personnel assembled there from all around the world. I guess the word we would use for that today is "community".
What does INTERSCHUTZ mean for you, and what is your view of the changes the show has undergone over the years?
Obviously, it’s the perfect information-gathering opportunity for everyone in the emergency services sector, not to mention a showcase for innovations. I can go there and survey all the latest ideas and innovations in civil protection, emergency rescue, safety and security, all at one convenient location. That’s the first point I’d make. But INTERSCHUTZ is also a meeting hub for networking between research, industry and users in a way that no other show is. It is a place where you can compare notes with peers and "talk technology" with manufacturers as well as make new contacts and new friends.
What are you especially looking forward to at INTERSCHUTZ 2020?
The technology landscape has changed enormously since the last INTERSCHUTZ in 2015. I’m talking about digitization of course. These days, everything is digital. So I am sure there will be plenty of new things to see. Our GFPA pavilion will also be focusing a great deal on digitization. Moreover, a lot has happened in our organization over the past five years, and this will be evident at INTERSCHUTZ.
I also think it’s wonderful that INTERSCHUTZ 2020 coincides with the 29th German Firefighting Convention. That will give both events an additional boost. The excellent working relationship that exists between the German Fire Services Association and the German Fire Protection Association is already evident in our joint preparatory meetings. And one more thing: I’m really looking forward to renewing a lot of old acquaintances.
One last question. What has to happen for you to be able to say on 20 June 2020: "Yes, this year’s show was a resounding success?"
Well, we are all constantly striving for new superlatives, new records. And in the case of INTERSCHUTZ, that always includes the visitor numbers. The 157,000 turnout in 2015 was a huge success in and of itself, so it would be fantastic if we could top it. I’d like to see 200,000.
If that all comes to fruition and everything goes smoothly and without hitch, then I will be a happy man.
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