He speaks four languages fluently, a smidgen of a fifth and is learning a sixth – Mandarin Chinese. He earned a degree in political science/international relations. He’s a singer and rhythm guitar player in a band and plays piano, drums and bass – by ear. He cooks, he travels, he reads, he builds. He’s strolled up and down runways as a male fashion model and has done hair modeling.
A Renaissance Man, perhaps. He matches the definition. He’s also a busy man professionally.
Al Ludwig is a 14-year veteran of the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD), a master firefighter working at Station 11 and driving Engine 11. He is an advanced EMT (emergency medical technician), a firefighter with certifications in technical rescue, confined space rescues, trench rescues, high angle rescues, swift-water rescues and vehicle extrications.
Reared in Lincoln Park, he and wife Rebecca and their son Thomas, 12, live in Fountain City. Since 1858, the males born into his Ludwig clan are named either Alfred, Thomas, William or Frederick, a tradition continuing until this day. He is a 1990 Fulton High graduate and in 1995 graduated from the University of Tennessee.
Ludwig, 49, was exposed to the world at an early age. He went with his parents on a month-long, backpacking and train trip across Europe when he was 7. That piqued his interest in languages and other cultures and led to fluency in Spanish, German and French. “And a bit of Swedish too,” he adds. “I’ve also used just about all of them at work, like when I was conducting tours at headquarters or when I was at the 911 Center.”
He worked six years at 911 and that led to his joining KFD in 2007. His initial posting at Headquarters Station 1 lasted 11 years, and three years ago he moved to Station 11 on Whittle Springs Road, which is the third busiest KFD station based on their latest report, Ludwig said.
“I call our service area the Key West of Knoxville,” he explained.
“We have interesting demographics – 30-somethings buying and renovating older homes in nice neighborhoods and we have Latinos, Asians and others living here. Plus, the elderly and long-time residents. It’s a real eclectic mixture and my Spanish is very helpful. I do a lot of translation work.”
Ludwig loves the firefighter and first responder work. “It’s very rewarding. My skills fit the job. And this job made me face my fears. I’ve always been afraid of heights. Not now,” he says. “We deal with lots of OD’s (drug overdoses), most in the homeless camps, many in wooded areas. It feels so good to help people who do not have caregivers and some who live in squalor and need our help.”
More than 80% of their calls are medically related.
Then come the scary fire calls. He remembers a warehouse fire, thick black smoke that rendered him blind. “I was upstairs and could only see the fire in the roof and ceiling. I was searching for victims. I came to some doors that opened on to a balcony and I put my foot out to step on it and the balcony was gone. Very close call. It was a long drop to a concrete floor.”
A conversation with Ludwig leaves you with a few conclusions – he’s creative, always busy working on something and a man passionate about his work and those fellow professionals around him.
Away from work he says he “loses himself” working out two to three times a week and rehearsing and playing gigs with their band – The Johnny’s. With Ludwig is his cousin James Cox, a Knoxville Police Department officer; Greg Sharp, vocals and guitar; and drummer Bo Merritt. Their stage names are Johnny Vegas, Johnny Love and Johnny Shades. Merritt is so new to the group that he’s not earned a Johnny moniker yet. They play music from the1940s, 1950s and 1960s made famous by singers named Johnny – Cash, Rivers – and two not named Johnny, Elvis and Willie Nelson.
Ludwig is akin to peeling an onion – when you peel one layer of skin back there’s more to discover.
“I’m happy with life because I’m a people person and enjoy knowing different kinds of people from different cultures. I enjoy having an eclectic mix of friends and I love my professional life. I want to be there to help people. It’s all fun,” he says.