Michele Pankow sworn in as Rockford’s first female fire chief

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – Rockford’s new Fire Chief, Michele Pankow, has been with the Fire Department since 1992. In 2016, she made Rockford history as the first female Division Chief. Now, she’s making history again.

For nearly 30 years, Michele Pankow has been working her way up from within the department, from being a lieutenant, captain and district chief. Chief Pankow is the first woman to serve in the role. She was sworn in on Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Hall, at 211 N Main Street.

Mayor Tom McNamara says “what you see is what you get” when it comes to the new fire chief.

“Really, [she is] one of the most thoughtful people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. But also do not let that surprise you, she is a fierce advocate for her department. She is absolutely aggressive in her work to make sure that she is helping citizens of Rockford, and she is very collaborative,” he said.

There were several familiar faces in the crowd as the Rockford Fire Department’s new leader was sworn in, including past and present Rockford firefighters.

Chief Pankow has a lot of support from the department. Those who work alongside her say she is more than qualified to lead the Rockford Fire Department.

“As far as being the first woman to be in this position, I look at it as what an honor it is to be the 11th fire Chief of the Rockford Fire Department,” Pankow said. “It certainly is reflective and how much I’ve learned and truly how much I’ve learned in the past 28 years.”

Pankow is replacing former Chief Derek Bergsten, who took a job in Colorado, but he came back to show his support for his former colleague.

“I would not miss this for the world to support the organization,” Bergsten said. “I was on the organization for 28 years and it means a lot to me and to be able to support chief Pankow, and it is an incredible adventure she is on to be the 11th Chief.”

Pankow said she was delighted by the surprise and says she has learned a lot from Bergsten over the years, and she plans to carry on many of the qualities he showed while leading there.

“Very innovative, very creative, and thinking how we can we provide a better service, and that was a thing that was a huge takeaway from Chief Bergsten,” Pankow said.

However, Pankow also wants to create new initiatives of her own and inspire young women, and anyone who wants to be a firefighter, to go for it.

“Train, work hard, and understand that it is going to be very difficult,” Pankow said. “And just when you think it’s too difficult, dig deep and find it, and you’ll get there. Just don’t give up. Don’t give up.”

Chief Pankow says she already has a checklist on her agenda of things she hopes to accomplish. One of them is to add more diversity to the department.

She was sworn in on Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Hall, at 211 N Main Street.

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