In the pink: Women welcomed into East Rockaway Fire Department

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“I was excited when Amber joined,” said Torborg. “I wanted someone like her next to me on a hose line.” Both women are members of Vigilant Engine Co. No. 1.

LauKaitis said that her most memorable experience in her time with the department came after Superstorm Sandy hit. “We were going around with a trailer, giving out food in the days after the storm,” she recalled. “One woman came up to me and said, ‘I just lost my house, I don’t have family, I don’t need food, but I just want a hug.’ And I hugged her. That woman changed my life.”

Gearing up

The women wear the same fire gear as the men, though, of course, it is fitted differently. “It’s still very heavy,” said Torborg. “Especially when you start adding things to it. It could be 20 pounds or more — and if we go into a fire and get wet, it could weigh as much as 50 pounds.”

At least twice a week, on Tuesdays and Sundays, ERFD members train, sometimes going into Bay Park to put out simulated fires. They attend meetings, go to competitions with other county departments, and stay up to date on the latest firefighting equipment. “There’s a lot of preplanning in the Fire Department,” Torborg said.

Women to the rescue

There are another dozen or so women in the department’s rescue squad. “We’re all doing the same job,” said Rob Bristol, the squad’s captain. “Actually, we’d be lost without them.”

“I think it’s great that the fire service is open to all who qualify being in rescue or as a firefighter,” said the chief of the department, Ed Reicherter. “And now with firefighting females, it makes the department more diverse and [it’s] a step in the right direction for the future. Amber and Suzanne took that step, and with their training, they became great role models for the younger generation and assets to our department.”

“The department has mostly been known as a boys’ club,” said Firefighter Andrew Pignataro. “But having [the women] here gives us a new perspective.”

“It‘s such a learning experience, and you get to be active in the community,” said LauKaitis. “I wish more women would join. I want to show that women can do the same things as men can do.”

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