Asked what she and fellow firefighter Suzanne Torborg bring to the East Rockaway Fire Department, Amber LauKaitis, one of only two women in the department who fight fires and answer emergency calls, jokingly answered, “Pink!’ referring to their specially ordered T-shirts and accessories.
But the two women know they bring a lot more than a color to the 150-member department. They’ve cracked the “boys’ club” code — and discovered that it wasn’t that difficult after all.
“The department welcomed me with open arms,” said Torborg, 24, who teaches science part-time and in the after-school program at East Rockaway High School, her alma mater, and has been a firefighter for almost seven years. “They were all great, and told me that they were there if I ever needed anything. It wasn’t scary at all, and I never felt uncomfortable.”
Torborg acknowledged that it didn’t hurt that both her father and her brother, both named Gene Torborg, are ERFD firefighters. Her brother is one of the chiefs of the department.
“On my 18th birthday, my brother showed up with a Fire Department application and said I should try it,” Suzanne said. “My father said I could quit anytime if I didn’t like it.” She tried it, she said, “and I loved it!”
Once a newcomer is accepted into the department, there is a probationary period, courses to take and six months of hands-on training. Torborg’s first experience with a real fire was on Main Street, she recalled, and she and the other firefighters had to break through a wall.
“All I saw was flames coming toward my head,” she said. “It might not have been too bad, but it seemed it to me at the time. And I saved a cat, so it was a memorable experience.”
LauKaitis, 22, also comes from a family of community service volunteers. Her mother, Diane LauKaitis, is the deputy inspector of the Nassau County Auxiliary Police and a member of the East Rockaway Auxiliary Police Department. Her father, Don, is an officer in the department. Her older brother, Eric, works alongside her in the Fire Department and is also an EMT, having joined two months before she did, almost three years ago.
“I wanted to go a different route, but it’s all about giving back,” Amber said. During the day she works at the Fantasy theater in Rockville Centre.