For Kaitlyn Bazarewski, fighting fires — and gender norms — runs in her blood.
Last month, the North Bellmore native made history when she became the first woman 3rd Assistant Chief in the North Bellmore Volunteer Fire Department. Kaitlyn was sworn in on April 12 by her father, commissioner and ex-captain Robert Bazarewski.
The North Bellmore department covers parts of North Merrick.
For Kaitlyn, 28, family and firehouse are synonymous. She grew up inside the brick building, and remembers washing fire trucks on Sunday mornings with the volunteers whom she said she knows “like blood.”
But while growing up, there were never any female firefighters, Kaitlyn said.
“As I grew older, I realized there were female EMTs, but I assumed firefighting was a male-driven role,” she said.
That changed in 2013, when then 20-year-old Kaitlyn was champing at the bit to put out a blazing North Bellmore house fire. After telling her friends, including 1st Assistant Chief Arthur White III, of her ambitions, she found the motivation to join the firehouse.
“He told me, ‘Look, girls can do this,’” Kaitlyn recalled. “I was surprised, but that’s what I think helped me join.”
White III, or “Artie” in the department, said Kaitlyn has been his lifelong best friend, and he was eager to support her.
“I just remember telling her that nothing could stand in her way if this is what she wants to do,” White III said.
But it didn’t come without its challenges. Kaitlyn said it was nerve-wracking to get involved, scared that she would get flak for being a woman in a male-driven industry. Robert, a 30-year member of the department, was supportive yet skeptical to watch his daughter in that role, concerned that she may be bullied or put down.
Despite the initial fear, Kaitlyn went through a probationary period to prove herself alongside her male counterparts. She was simultaneously studying at the police academy. But she worked up the ranks, becoming lieutenant and later the department’s first female captain in March 2019, leading Company 2.
“I’m sure that women face so many more setbacks and doubts because they’re women,” White III said. “But she’s so ambitious, she always has been. She set her goals and accomplished what she wanted.”
Now, when she’s not fighting fires, Kaitlyn works as an officer in the 103rd Precinct at the New York City Police Department Detective Bureau in Queens.
“She always worked extremely hard to do what she wanted,” ex-chief Robert said. “I’m just really proud of her for where she is now.”
The North Bellmore native has also paved the way for newcomers in the department. Roughly five women have joined the North Bellmore team and stayed in close contact with Kaitlyn since she joined, she said. Her younger brother, Nicholas, has also followed her lead and currently serves as a firefighter.
“Just because I broke the ice, and I think I influenced a lot of people, I showed a lot of women that just because you’re smaller than the guys doesn’t mean that you can’t do the job,” Kaitlyn said.
Kaitlyn said that she’s incredibly grateful for the local and familial support she has received.
“I never expected anything like this,” she said. “I’m a huge community person. I just want to help people. That’s in my nature. I never felt pushed to do anything like this — it’s just who I am.”