DAHLGREN, Va. –
What inspires or motivates a person to want to help others in need? To place someone else’s life above their own or to do everything they can to save them when in a dire situation? Those courageous men and women who dedicate their time, effort and energy share their abilities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of others. Matthew Heindrichs is one of those people.
Heindrichs, who serves as a systems safety engineer for the Platform Systems Integration Branch at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), dedicates his personal time as a certified active advanced life support (ALS) rescue squad member and volunteer firefighter for the Aquia Harbour Volunteer Rescue Squad in Stafford.
For Heindrichs, every mission is essential, bringing enriching experiences that further his dedication to his rescue squad and as a vital member of the Dahlgren workforce. “I am very much a problem solver and value interacting with people. Volunteering in this capacity, doing what I can and incorporating the skills I’ve learned to help someone, provides a certain kind of balance for me and drives me to continue, personally and professionally,” Heindrichs stated.
He first became involved with rescue missions in 2016 as a college student while attending Virginia Tech, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “Since my dad was a firefighter for 25 years, helping people in need has always been a part of my life,” he said. “When I was in college, I took the opportunity to try out for the local rescue squad and became a part of an amazing team. It was a rewarding experience and I wanted to stay involved in that capacity in my local community.” He recently earned his master’s degree in robotics engineering from the Naval Post Graduate School.
The training and certification process that Heindrichs underwent to obtain a high-level of patient care took commitment and stamina. As an ALS squad member and firefighter, he devoted countless hours to training and preparation while expanding his knowledge base. The result of his hard work is demonstrated in his ability to provide advanced support in emergency situations, stemming from non-urgent care to life-threatening circumstances. Heindrichs is also licensed to operate various rescue vehicles, such as ambulances and fire engines.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Heindrichs worked around the clock, providing critical healthcare and fulfilling his duties as a systems safety engineer for the warfare center. He reflected on overcoming challenges he faced and finding viable solutions stating, “we were experiencing such an increased volume of calls at that time. We had to observe cautionary health restrictions and regulations, including putting on extra protective gear and following strict sanitizing and cleaning procedures for the rescue vehicles. I needed to find effective ways to combat the health crisis and ensure we did everything correctly.”
Heindrichs attributes the efficient balance between his career and volunteerism to the support and encouragement he received from his colleagues and leadership. “It became almost another full-time job for me, and I couldn’t have done it without the flexibility and understanding from my department and branch leaders that supported me along the way.”
Heindrichs’ field expertise, capabilities and contributions through his volunteer efforts did not go unnoticed by his peers and department leadership. As one of seven civilian candidates selected, Heindrichs received the NSWCDD Distinguished Community Service Award for his service and dedication to rescue missions. The award citation reads in part, “his commitment to others’ safety exemplifies the values of both bravery and selflessness.”
“I am truly honored for the recognition and appreciate the nomination,” said Heindrichs. “I often tell people who ask me about my rescue squad work that they can do what I do. All it takes is to walk through the door and dedicate yourself.” Heindrichs also serves as the rescue squad’s training sergeant and treasurer.