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.


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