• This Is Rutherford

This is Matt Ziemkiewicz

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Even at a young age, life-long Rutherfordian Matt Ziemkiewicz, knew that he wanted to help others. As a teenager, he joined the Rutherford First Aid Squad and began learning about how to ensure the safety of others. After experiencing tragedy in his own life when his young sister Jill passed away in a plane crash, Matt needed to find a way to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.


Matt's roots run deep in Rutherford, and his dedication to emergency management and preparedness makes him and incredibly valuable member of the community.


Rutherford EMT Dennis Mazone, a friend for over ten years says Matt "has always been a great friend and an outstanding leader in the first response community. While most of us know Matt for his role as our local Rutherford Deputy and Bergen County Emergency Management Coordinator. Matt has also played a critical role at the Federal level through his work with the Nation Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Matt has devoted himself to helping the NTSB develop protocols utilized to operate Family Assistance Centers (FAC) across the nation, following an aviation disaster, and is a staunch advocate for the families affected. Any community would be lucky to have a guy like Matt Ziemkiewicz, I'm just pleased to know we have him in Rutherford."


This is Rutherford had the opportunity to speak with Matt about his amazing career and his awesome ability to help others.

TIR: One of your many roles includes President of the National Air Disaster Foundation. How did you get involved in NADF?

Matt Ziemkiewicz: Following the crash of TWA Flight 800 in July 1996, where my sister Jill was part of the working flight crew, I started searching for answers. My family was devastated and the community response was overwhelming. We came across a group of folks who have experienced the loss of a loved one in similar situations. Like many other crashes, it became apparent that TWA Flight 800 was preventable and we wanted to assure that this never happens to anyone again. The National Air Disaster Foundation (NADF) was the avenue to get regulations, rules, and legislation implemented to make aviation safer.

Jill's Garden in DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst in memory of Matt's sister, Jill Ziemkiewicz

TIR: Tell us more about what the National Air Disaster Foundation is and what they do.

MZ: The National Air Disaster Foundation is a non profit grassroots Washington DC based aviation advocacy group whose mission is to improve aviation safety, security, survivability, and provide support for those affected by an aviation incident. Representing over 6000 members from over 130 aviation incidents, I currently serve as President. NADF is highly regarded in the aviation and legislative community for its perspective and insight. NADF representatives are often the only public advocacy representatives on many aviation safety and security committees.

This road has taken me places I never dreamed, and has afforded me opportunities to make aviation safer; although deep down, I wish did not have to be there. I’ve been to the White House arguing for fuel tank inerting, to Congress on family assistance issues, appointed to FAA rule-making committees regarding pilot training, instructed training modules at the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) Academy, and most recently appointed by the Transportation Security Administrator to the TSA Aviation Security Advisory Committee.


TIR: How did you originally become involved in the field of emergency management?

MZ: I actually got my start in public safety and into emergency management by volunteering in high school on the Rutherford First Aid Squad. It was here where I was first exposed to emergency response activities and I was afforded opportunities based on that experience to start a career in Jersey City EMS and then the Jersey City Fire Department. I had also started working part time at the Meadowland Sports Complex Medical Unit. It was really during the planning of the first World Cup Games in the early 90s that I experienced my first emergency management training course. This was truly the beginning of my start in EM. Meeting people, learning everything I could about EM, attending professionally run training programs all hosted, at the time, by the New Jersey State Police Emergency Management Section. It was during this time that emergency management was transitioning from the Civil Defense model into what it is today.

"Being in command of a fire scene and seeing Matt behind you ready to assist in getting any resources needed was always comforting," explained Rich Minervini, Rutherford and Paramus Firefighter.

TIR: You have seen a lot and have helped so many individuals. Which do you enjoy most about the work that you do?

MZ: Of course that would have to be responding to emergencies and getting all the moving parts working in sync. Although, quite frankly, it’s not exciting all the time and I am alright with that. When we get involved during an emergency, people are often experiencing the worst day of their lives. Everything has been uprooted and they are looking for help.


TIR: Can you explain more about what emergency management actually is and what it entails?

MZ: There are many aspects of emergency management that folks probably do not realize occur in every municipality. There are five phases of emergency management: prevention, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Well, after the emergency response efforts have concluded, emergency management lives with the recovery and mitigation phases for an extended period. We are still working on cost recovery from Hurricane Sandy, the Halloween Ice Storm, and just closing out Hurricane Irene. Using lessons learned from the impacts of these disasters, we are able to cycle into the mitigation phase to lessen the impacts to a community and then back into prevention and planning.


TIR: As a professional, where do you advise people obtain information before or during any emergency situations?

MZ: A few weeks ago there was an emergency in East Rutherford that had the potential to affect occupants of buildings in Rutherford on the east side of Rt.17. With the initial report of a chemical reaction and fire involving chlorine, the prevailing wind going toward the south, on scene officials issued a precautionary shelter in place for folks in that area until they could get a good size up to the extent of the potential hazard. Once specialized hazardous materials units form Bergen County arrived with very technical equipment, it was determined that there was no detectable levels of hazardous material in the area and the shelter in place was promptly lifted. Rutherford issued this announcement and got it out quickly via Nixle and social media platforms. Another tool is the emergency telephone alerting system. I recommend that residents log on to the Borough of Rutherford Website and subscribe to “Community alerts and notifications” for both Nixle alerts, Swiftreach telephone alerting. In addition, residents should follow the borough's social media sites on Twitter and Facebook. For weather events, pay attention to local officials and local weather services and know your immediate area especially if you live in a flood prone area.


TIR: What directions do you wish people would heed in an emergency, that most seem to ignore?

MZ: Being prepared for an event you know is going to happen, such as severe weather, will make you better prepared for the events that might happen, like a terrorist attack. We know severe weather events occur every year. Some areas of town are more prone to flooding than others, no one escapes a severe winter storm, and utility outages can occur anytime and anywhere with little to no notice.


I strongly recommend preparedness efforts occur before an event occurs. Self-preparedness at home and work and making homes more resilient to the effects of severe weather are some areas that would benefit residents. Being prepared and more self-sufficient also lessens the impact to our emergency services during a severe weather event or emergency.

Pay attention to local officials and monitor local weather updates, be prepared to be self-sufficient for an extended period of time, have extra water, food supplies, and medication on hand. Set up a go kit in case you need to evacuate, secure important documents, and have adequate supplies for your pets.

Most importantly, use common sense and do not take unnecessary risks during emergencies!

TIR: What can you tell us about the Rescue Task Forces in Bergen County?

MZ: The Rescue Task Force is a US Homeland Security Urban Area Security Initiative grant-funded project intended to give first responders the training and equipment necessary to respond to a mass casualty event. As we have seen throughout the world and across the country, the RTF project addresses the current homeland security threat environment of active shooters, small explosive devices, and vehicle ramming attacks. These specially trained and equipped responders will enter a scene and render lifesaving bleeding and airway control techniques, then evacuate victims from a hostile environment to a casualty collection area for additional EMS care. Very often the first responders in these types of events are folks involved in the event themselves and they end up less injured than those they are helping.


The RTF program evolved out of many case studies where people injured in mass casualty events often died from massive bleeding. Often this massive blood loss could have been controlled by getting trained personnel into a hostile scene, using simple life saving techniques and tourniquet application. We conduct this training program at the Bergen County EMS Training Center in Paramus, where I along with a cadre of exceptionally experienced instructional staff have taught thousands of Bergen County First Responders, school teachers, security personnel, and others bleeding control and the Rescue Task Force training program. The Rutherford Police Department and many members of the Rutherford Fire Department and Rutherford First Aid Squad have completed the Rescue Task Force training.

Rob Ziemkiewicz and Dennis Gentile, Jr. at Firefighter 1 Training

TIR: Recently TIR interviewed your son Rob who was in the process of completing his Junior Firefighter Training (see article here). What can you tell us about the Junior Firefighter Program in Rutherford?

MZ: Yes, my son Rob is super excited to join the fire department. The Rutherford FD has a terrific Junior Firefighter program that really embraces enthusiastic 16 and 17 year old kids who want to serve the community and become part of the larger community of first responders. He, along with his Rutherford FD JR firefighter colleagues just completed their Firefighter 1 training program at the Bergen County Fire Academy in Mahwah. I do foresee my younger son, Jimmy, joining them as soon as he’s eligible.


TIR: Have you and Rob had the chance to work together at all?

MZ: Yes, there have been some instances where we have been on calls together. I’m usually more in the command and incident management role while he’s on the operations side with his fire company.

Matt inside an aircraft at the Delta Airlines Training Center

TIR: What do you recommend teenagers do when they want to go into government service?

MZ: Getting involved locally is always a good way to start, regardless of what you’re looking to do. It’s a terrific opportunity to learn, meet folks in the field you’re interested in, and really see how the government gets things done.

TIR: Tell us more about your family and the years you have spent in Rutherford.

MZ: We have lived in this great town for over fifty years. I am married to Colleen, a Jersey City Public Schools Special Education Teacher, and we have two boys. Our boys, Rob and Jimmy, both attend Rutherford High School. My Mom, a retired third grade teacher from Pierrepont School, just moved down the shore and my sister Carin still lives in town.


TIR: What do you enjoy most about living in Rutherford?

MZ: Rutherford is a great town! After all, my family and I have been here for over fifty years. It’s the Rutherford community spirit and neighborhood feeling; our terrific schools and dedicated teachers; the special borough events that bring folks together; our awesome police, fire and EMS first responders and committed borough employees; the close proximity to the city, all the life-long friends we’ve made growing up in this town, and the list can easily go on and on... that’s what keeps us rooted here.

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