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Longtime Janesville Fire Department member Jim Ponkauskas named fire chief

JANESVILLE

Janesville Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Ponkauskas has been named chief of the fire department after serving as the department’s interim chief for the last month.

The city of Janesville announced Monday that Ponkauskas is now promoted to fire chief, a move that puts the 33-year veteran firefighter and fire department administrator at the helm of a department he has served since 1999.

City Manager Mark Freitag said the hiring comes at the recommendation of the police and fire commission, which met in closed session last week to discuss a search for the fire chief.

The commission has unilateral discretion to hire and promote firefighters, police officers, and police and fire department administrative employees.

The commission’s decision comes after Freitag in July recommended Ponkauskas be appointed interim chief while the commission decided how it would pursue hiring or naming a new chief after Ernie Rhodes left the post in August for a new job in Missouri.

Ponkauskas is the third Janesville fire chief in six years. He served twice as interim fire chief—including in 2018 after former chief Randy Banker retired. Banker and Rhodes were both hired through national searches. Ponkauskas has in the past been a finalist during fire chief searches. This time, the promotion to the department’s top post came from within the department’s ranks.

Ponkauskas starts in his new role immediately.

A former firefighter and former chief of the Orfordville Fire Protection District, Ponkauskas has worked in firefighting since 1988. Ponkauskas has served in Janesville as a pump operator, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief prior to being deputy chief of operations.

The new chief said he’s “honored” to have been named to the department’s top post.

“It shows a lot to our (fire department) members that if serving in a position like this (fire chief) is something they would like to do, through their hard work and effort, there is the possibility for that to happen,” Ponkauskas said in a statement.

Freitag in a statement said he has “absolute confidence” in Ponkauskas’s leadership.

“I know he is the right person, in the right place, at the right time for this position,” Freitag said in as statement.

Ponkauskas holds an associate’s degree in fire science. He is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree from UW-Oshkosh in fire and emergency response management.


Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 21, 2021

Bert W. Corkhill

Floyd Denson

Leroy Derhammer

Betty Mae (Sanderson) Kelly

Nanette F. Jahnke

Troy W. Loos

Alexander Perry Loper

Merle Messerschmidt

Herbert E. Pintsch

Grace J. (Cooley) Rowin

Charles F. “Charlie” Scharine

Luella Mabel Shackelford

Roger L. Streich


Crime
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Competency hearing ordered for Fort Atkinson dog trainer accused of killing Janesville woman's puppy

JEFFERSON

A 49-year-old Fort Atkinson woman who is charged in Jefferson County Court with killing a dog that she was training has been ordered to undergo a mental competency investigation and have a subsequent competency hearing Oct. 8.

Tammy S. Flemming had been bound over for trial in Jefferson County on a charge of felony mistreatment of a dog causing death, but she failed to appear for a court hearing in June. This led Judge Robert Dehring to issue a bench warrant. Flemming was eventually located and made a court appearance Thursday, at which her competency evaluation was ordered.

The incident involving Flemming and Cooper, a husky-Pomeranian mix owned by a Janesville woman, occurred Sept. 11, 2020, in Fort Atkinson.

According to a criminal complaint, a Fort Atkinson police officer Adam Lawrence spoke with Cooper’s owner, Lindsey Davidson of Janesville. Davidson said the 8-month-old dog was being trained at Herman’s Hangout in Fort Atkinson and that she had received a call from the dog trainer there, Flemming, who told her that Cooper had died.

The dog owner said Flemming told her she had pushed Cooper too far and that she “messed up.”

Lawrence then went to Herman’s Hangout and spoke with Flemming.

“Tammy stated that she was doing her final training for the night with Cooper at approximately 10:30 p.m.,” the complaint said. “She had Cooper on a choker chain. She stated the way she trains is by a method called, ‘release of pressure,’ which means the dog will decide how much pressure is applied to achieve compliance.”

The complaint stated it is common for a dog to yelp or react when using a choker chain.

“That is when they know to relieve the pressure,” the complaint stated. “Cooper had been with Tammy for four weeks and had been doing very well on the choker chain. During this time, Tammy was asking Cooper to sit, but he was in a ‘power struggle’ with Tammy and had begun ‘fighting’ her by thrashing his head back and forth. This caused Tammy to continue with pressure on the chain.”

Flemming told Lawrence this was a command Cooper had successfully followed many times before.

“She attempted to give a loud verbal command to gain compliance and stop the thrashing,” according to the complaint. “This did not work and Cooper kept ‘fighting.’”

Flemming noticed Cooper’s back legs became weak and she released the chain, according to the complaint. Tammy noticed Cooper beginning to take slow, shallow breaths. She then gave him mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions, but he died. Flemming told Lawrence that she did not recognize that Cooper was in trouble.

“I asked Tammy what she believed happened to Cooper,” Lawrence said in the complaint. Flemming said she believed he had an adrenalin rush and was possibly overexerted, but she did not recognize it soon enough.”

Veterinarian Philip N. Bochsler at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Madison did a necropsy on Cooper that found the dog died from strangulation.

If Flemming is convicted on the animal abuse charge, she could face a fine of up to $10,000 and up to three years, six months in jail.


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