"It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female—as long as you can do the job, you’re aces in my book."

By Ela Schwartz

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female—as long as you can do the job, you’re aces in my book.”  – Heather Senti ’06, Lakeview Fire Department Chief

In the Line of Fire

Heather Senti ’06 was apparently destined for a life as a firefighter. Both her father and grandfather were chiefs for the Lakeview Fire Department. Growing up, she and her brother hung around the firehouse and pretended to fight fires. She tells how the firefighters would “bring the [new recruits] over to me and tell them, ‘If this kid can show you up, we’ll dog you for the rest of the year.’”

Ms. Senti did more than show rookies she had the right stuff to become a firefighter. In April 2012, she was elected the new fire chief at Lakeview and made history by becoming Nassau County’s first female fire chief almost 50 years to the day after her grandfather, Frederick Senti, had been elected chief and 30 years after her father, Fred Jr., had won the honor. Her brother, Fred III, currently serves as a captain in the district, making firefighting truly a family affair.

Ms. Senti balances her responsibilities as chief while working full time as a recovery officer at the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management

While it seems that she has been on the emergency services track since she was born, Ms. Senti did take a detour during her undergraduate years at Adelphi when she majored in communications. But she says her classes served her well by honing her public speaking and communication skills so she can represent the Lakeview Fire Department to the public and the media.

The Lakeview fire district is one of the more challenging in Nassau County. “We cover one of the most dangerous portions of the Southern State Parkway, exits 17 to 19,” she says. Some of the communities served include low-income or immigrant .populations, meaning her crew must contend with language barriers in emergency situations and single family homes outfitted with makeshift apartments to accommodate multiple families. “It makes it difficult for us when there’s a wall or bolted door where a walkway should be,” she says.

While her district is diverse, so is her department, which Ms. Senti calls a “reflection of our community,” consisting of Caucasian, African American, Latino and Orthodox Jewish members. And, of course, female medics and firefighters, although she’d like to see more women in the latter role. “We’re trying to break down those barriers,” she says. “Women bring that finesse, that calming voice when chaos is occurring. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female—as long as you can do the job, you’re aces in my book.”

This piece appeared in the Adelphi University Magazine Fall 2012 edition.

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