Rockford firefighter reflects on her two decades of work

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Rockford Fire Department’s Michele Pankow has been blazing through a male-dominated industry for over two decades. In honor of Women’s History Month, she reflects on that journey.

“I had a number of people tell me that they think I couldn’t do it or that I shouldn’t do it,” Division Chief of Operations of Rockford Fire Department Michele Pankow said.

It’s that doubt that ignited the fire within Pankow to pursue a career as a firefighter.

“That just made me more curious and made me want to do it more,” Pankow said.

She started in 1992 at Fire Station One in Rockford and she says since the beginning she’s felt right at home.

“The people that I worked with when I came on the job provided me with an enormous amount of support,” Pankow said. “So the fact that I was a female, I don’t know that that factored in too much. I was just part of the team.”

“She really cares about the community and wants to improve services,” Chief of the Rockford Fire Department Derek Bergsten said.

In 2017, after 24 years with RFD, her ambition lead to a promotion as Division Chief of Operations.

“She’s very dedicated to this profession and she’s worked her way up through the ranks,” Bergsten said.

Her passion for the job has even inspired others and continues to do that through mentoring for a local organization, The Young Women’s Leadership.

“We provide information to young women that there are opportunities out there that maybe otherwise don’t appear to be an opportunity,” Pankow said.

Pankow says the program is growing and influencing more and more girls every year.

“I just think that it’s important to show that, you know, there are women that are functioning in these position and have been for some time,” Pankow said.

Pankow tells us that her department family is the main reason she enjoys coming to work everyday for the last 26 years.

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