Every since she was a little girl, Heather Senti of West Hempstead would pretend she was riding on a fire truck en route to save a burning home.
Her grandfather was a firefighter and so was her dad, both serving in the , a unit that she became the assistant chief of late Thursday night.
Senti, 26, is the first female to hold the title in the history of the Lakeview Fire Department and Nassau County. She was elected by her fellow firefighters on April 7, taking over for Michael Koppel, a 15-year member who was promoted to chief. Both ran for their posts unopposed.
"They're both very good and will do a great job," said Chief Michael Joyce, who Koppel will replace.
Senti received a Masters degree in Emergency Management from Adelphi University in 2006 and now works for the County's Office of Emergency Management. She became a firefighter for Lakeview seven years ago, carrying on the family tradition.
"It all started with my grandfather," she said. "He's since passed on but was a member for over 50 years and always active."
The Lakeview fire house has since been dedicated to her granddad, bearing the name "Frederick G. Senti" on the outside.
Frederick Senti inspired his son to join at the age of 18 and his grandson, Heather's brother.
"It's just ingrained in us," she says, recalling the days she and her sibling would play around imagining they were firefighters.
She's even found love at the Lakeview Fire Department, where her boyfriend of two years also serves, but mainly she's there to make a difference.
This is what inspired her to pursue a leadership role despite the fact that fire houses are typically boys' clubs.
"I don't see gender," she says. "As long as you're physically and mentally tough enough to do the job...it doesn't matter if you're male or female."
She pointed out that in the past, most of the physically-demanding service jobs - firefighter, police, etc. - were stereotyped as men's professions.
"There were many different jobs that females usually stayed away from," she says, but even since she started with the department around 2004, she's seen the number of female members increase.
Although while male firefighters are more likely to embrace female members, until now no department has voted a woman into one of the top leadership positions.
"I wasn't the first female [in Nassau County] to try to run for a chief position," she says, explaining that a woman in Baldwin has tried twice but was not successful. "It just wasn't in the cards for her."
Senti said her family's history and involvement with the Lakeview Fire Department may have made her experience slightly easier than what some women have encountered.
"Some places are a little tougher than others," she says, but she still encourages all women who think they are up for the challenge to try their hand at being a volunteer firefighter.
"You just have to be tough," she says, describing the physical and emotional challenges of the job, and the time commitment. "It's time away from family and friends."
She suggests they visit their local fire house to learn more.
"Come down and take a look at what your experience may be...you just have to give it a try."
As she prepares to step up from captain to assistant chief, her focus is on finding ways to improve the training for all the department's members.
"Training is key to keep members on their toes, so they know what they're going into," she says.
Today firefighters have to be able to handle different types of situations, she explained, and hopes to bring new innovative training to the department while also improving the level and complexity of existing programs.
She said she also wants to work more with neighboring departments including Malverne, Lynbrook, Rockville Centre, East Rockaway and West Hempstead to ensure everyone is on the same page and moving forward in the right direction.
"I got into this because I want to make a difference," she says. "I see things here and there that could improve and I want to make things better for the next generation."