Matt Haenni: An emergency responder finds a second career as an Emergency Service Unit officer at PPPL

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe
May 19, 2023

“I love being an EMT. It is one of the greatest jobs in the world”

PPPL’s Emergency Service Unit officers do far more than provide security at PPPL. 

Each officer is a trained firefighter, emergency medical technician, and security officer and each is ready to respond to fires and medical emergencies at PPPL and in Plainsboro Township and other nearby communities. 

Last year, PPPL’s ESU officers responded to 226 fire incidents, and 187 EMS incidents. 

The importance of their jobs was brought home recently when ESU Officer Clifford Kraft saved someone’s life who was in cardiac arrest when he performed CPR and used the LUCAS device, a mechanical chest device that delivers chest compressions to sudden cardiac arrest patients. 

"It is hard to fully grasp the magnitude and level of responsibility that falls on the shoulders of emergency responders,” said Dina Christie, head of site protection. “I feel extremely humbled and proud of the work PPPL's Emergency Services Unit and support staff does every day for the Lab community and so many other surrounding communities." 

As PPPL celebrates Emergency Medical Services Week May 21 to 27, we highlight one of our trained emergency medical technicians. 

Name: Matt Haenni 

Title and Department: Emergency Services Unit officer, Site Protection Division 

How long at PPPL: Since September 2022

Matt Haenni is one of 21 Emergency Service Unit officers who are on call in case of an emergency. They work 24-hour shifts at PPPL. They are at the Laboratory during weekends and holidays, and they eat and sleep at the Lab firehouse during their shifts. 

He grew up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, the son of a mother who was a gifted and talented teacher in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, and a father who worked as an insurance examiner for the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. After working in the flooring industry for 28 years, Haenni began pursuing a second career as an emergency responder, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who was a firefighter in Philadelphia. 

“He was the strongest person I ever met, physically and mentally. He was very disciplined,” Haenni recalled. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody as tough as my grandfather.” 

A volunteer firefighter since 2012 

Haenni has been a volunteer firefighter with Lawrence Township’s Station 21 Volunteer Fire Department since 2012. He attended the Burlington County Emergency Services Training Center where he graduated first in his class and first of three graduating classes that year. Haenni was a firefighter and engineer and served as the lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and battalion chief for the fire company as well as recording secretary and vice president. 

While he was working his way up in the flooring industry to project manager, he often worked seven days a week and responded to emergency calls at night, leaving him little time to spend with his wife and children. Haenni took the advice of a firefighter friend to become certified as a dispatcher. He changed careers, landing a job as a 9-1-1 dispatcher for Mercer County in 2018. He became a senior public safety telecommunicator in 2020. 

When Haenni was working as a dispatcher, he met PPPL ESU Capt. Dan Tomalin, who was also a volunteer at Station 21. Tomalin told Haenni about PPPL and suggested Haenni “would be a great fit.” He advised Haenni to get the required training, including emergency medical technician training. 

That wasn’t an easy task. Haenni worked during the day and took EMT classes at night, while balancing the demands of family life. “I love taking classes, and I loved taking emergency medical training,” Haenni said. “ It was interesting to see how much responsibility you have as an EMT: if you’re out on a call, there’s no medics available and you have a critical patient, you need to know what to do.”

Haenni aiding a “victim” during an active shooter drill in September, 2022.

Haenni aiding a “victim” during an active shooter drill in September, 2022. (Photo by Brielle Schulz/PPPL)

A career switch to emergency medical technician

Haenni made his career switch during the COVID pandemic and he saw how people began to appreciate the job emergency responders do every day, Haenni said. “We were one of the fields that never stopped, never slowed down,” he said. “There was no working from home, dispatchers, fire, EMS, hospital workers — everyone was out in full force.”

Haenni completed training to become a nationally certified EMT in 2021. At the same time, he began working as an EMT for Plainsboro Township and Lawrence Township, always with the goal of coming to work at PPPL. “This was my first choice of where I wanted to come because of all the different aspects of what we do.” 

Haenni was hired in September as a driver/operator and is currently an acting lieutenant. He and other officers were proud to be part of PPPL’s first swearing in ceremony on April 1 this year. 

Haenni lives in the house he grew up in in Lawrence Township with his wife Lisa, a secretary at Stony Brook Elementary School in Hopewell, his stepdaughter Jasmine, 24; son Vaughn, 12, and daughter Marissa, 8. 

Haenni with wife Lisa, daughter Marissa, 8, and son Vaughn, 12.
Haenni with wife Lisa, daughter Marissa, 8, and son Vaughn, 12. (Photo courtesy of Matt Haenni). 

Describe your job

“We’re firefighters, we’re EMTs. …We respond to every situation at PPPL, whether a fire alarm, smoke in a building, or dealing with hazardous material. We provide access security at the booth from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and we’re always doing security patrols throughout our shift. There’s not a circumstance that could happen on site where we wouldn’t be prepared to go in and mitigate. We also do mutual aid in Plainsboro, Princeton, and other towns. 

I love being a firefighter. I love being an EMT. It is one of the greatest jobs in the world...  I like never knowing what’s coming in and what we’re going to be doing next.” 

What do you want people to know about emergency medical technicians?  

“It’s more than just a transport service. Everybody that we have is extremely qualified. They really do care about what happens to the people that we encounter. …You have to have true compassion, you have to really care about the people that you’re servicing. You’re providing a service and being able to recognize when this person is really sick and getting them the help they need: there's a very large sense of pride that you are able to help them. 

I love the fact that my kids know when I leave for work, I’m going to help people. I see how companionate they are toward others, especially people that need help. It’s an amazing feeling to know that what I do has that kind of impact on them.”

Three things about yourself: 

  1. “I love being on the water. I am my happiest version of myself when I’m on the water.”
  2. “My family and I love the beach and kayaking and we just got jet skis.” 
  3. “I’ve been playing guitar for 26 years.” 

What does working at PPPL mean to you? 

“I never feel like I’m going to work. I love my job here. The benefits are amazing. My kids are going to get financial assistance for college. Being able to help them, and tell them if you want to do something you’re going to be able to do it. That is incredible for me to be able to give them that opportunity.

I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the end goal, which is just sustainable, affordable energy. I’ll talk to people about what goes on here  and they’ll start to understand.”

Haenni and other ESU officers during the active shooter drill.
Haenni and other ESU officers during the active shooter drill. (Photo by Brielle Schulz/PPPL) 


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PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit