By Mercedes Guzman, Media Relations Police Blogger
The late Captain Kathy Mazza was a tough, no-nonsense but altruistic woman who commanded respect from both male and female police cadets as Commander of the Port Authority Police Academy, before she met an untimely death helping others on 9/11.
For her heroism that day and her achievements over a distinguished career, Mazza was posthumously honored this week as one of 18 winners of the 2016 Women of Action Awards, bestowed by the City Council in Jersey City.
Mazza was a first responder killed during the attack on the World Trade Center, but not before using her 9mm sidearm to shoot out the floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the North Tower’s mezzanine, enabling hundreds of people to escape with their lives. She was last seen helping colleagues carry out a woman in a rescue chair.
Of the 37 PAPD officers who lost their lives that day, she became the first and only female Port Authority Police Officer killed in the line of duty.
In an interview before the ceremony, her mother, Rose tearfully explained that from the start, her daughter somehow sensed she wouldn’t live a long life.
“I recall my own mother’s words about Kathy: ‘What a destiny she’s going to have!’ I’ve remembered her words all my life,” said Rose.
Rose remembers how as a teenager, Kathy used to sneak in the house at 3 a.m., well past her curfew. “I knew early on that my daughter had her own mind. She was a determined person who always told me she’d leave her mark on the world.”
Mazza grew up on Long Island with her parents, and three brothers with whom she arm-wrestled and learned the skills of sibling warfare. She attended Nassau Community College, obtaining her nursing degree and spending the first 10 years of her professional career as a cardiac nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn.
Family members recall that during the graduation ceremony in 1981, she broke the time-honored tradition of wearing a nursing cap. Since male nursing graduates didn’t wear caps, she refused to wear hers and graduated “cap-less.” “She always did what she wanted to do,” her mother said.
According to her husband of 16 years, Christopher Delosh, a retired NYPD Officer, had anyone asked his wife why she joined the Port Authority Police Department in 1987 after working as a cardiac nurse, she would likely have said the PAPD offered a more secure retirement for herself and her family. But he said “it was because she wanted to show [me] how [policing] is done!
She advanced quickly through the ranks, and after 13 years, she became the first female commanding officer of the police academy, during a time when there was only one other female captain in the entire department.
Another of Mazza’s significant achievements was convincing the Port Authority to install portable heart defibrillators in each of its airports, an accomplishment which saved many lives. She initiated the training program in which 600 police officers learned to use the defibrillators in the airports. Recognized in 1999 for her efforts, NYC named her the “Basic Life Support Provider of the Year.” She also oversaw the agency’s first-aid programs, certified first responder and EMT training.
PAPD Superintendent Michael Fedorko, who attended Tuesday’s awards ceremony, described Mazza as an officer “committed to helping people, and in the end, she gave her life to help people.”
PAPD Assistant Chief, Gloria Frank, worked with Captain Mazza when Frank was a rookie police officer in PAPD. “I was assigned to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in 1999, and Captain Mazza quickly became my mentor. Despite her tough facade, she was a very caring, selfless, fearless and dedicated woman who loved policing and advised me on how to perform police work at its best. I will never forget her kind words to me one day as she handed me a stack of police shirts, which still had the sergeant’s insignia attached to the sleeves. She said, ‘you will need these one day.’ We both laughed. She was the first supervisor who saw the potential in me to move up the ranks. She absolutely had an impact on my career.”
Mazza was a source of strength, not only in her law enforcement career, but to everyone in her life. Just a year after she underwent open-heart surgery to correct a quarter-sized hole, she saved her own mother’s life by being the first to recognize her mother’s arteries were blocked.
Quickly she took charge of the medical staff in her mother’s operating room. “Everyone was so shocked and intimidated by her presence that they just allowed her to run the show. She saved my life. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Rose.