Print URL:

5 finalists identified for Janesville fire chief

By Elliot Hughes
September 3, 2015

JANESVILLE -- Janesville's Police and Fire Commission has identified five candidates – four from out-of-state and one internal – as finalists to succeed Jim Jensen as the city's fire chief.

Michelle Vick, chairwoman of the commission, said the city plans to complete interviews with the finalists in September. She did not know when the commission, which is made up of five civilians, would announce the new hire. She said Jan. 1 is the targeted start date.

Jensen, 61, announced his retirement publicly in June after a 32-year career in firefighting. He joined the Janesvillle Fire Department in 1988 and became chief in 2010.

About 40 individuals applied for the job, which Vick called a “shocking” amount.

“They were all highly qualified from all over the United States,” she said. “That's a testament to the quality reputation that the Janesville Fire Department has.”

According to job applications provided by the city of Janesville, the finalists are:

Randall R. Banker

Education: Banker received a bachelor's degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University in Alabama in 2013.

Experience: Banker is deputy fire chief of the Batavia Fire Department in Illinois, a position he has held since 2012. He began his career in firefighting as a fighter for the Geneva Fire Department, also in Illinois, in 1984.

Christopher Garrison

Education: Garrison received a bachelor's in fire science from Southern Illinois University in 2011 and an associate degree in the same field from College of Lake County in Illinois in 2007.

Experience: Garrison holds two positions with the Lake Forest Fire Department in Illinois--deputy fire chief of administration (since 2009) and deputy fire chief of operations (since 2012). He started his firefighting career in 1989 and has worked as a technical rescue instructor, a building inspector, firefighter and a paramedic.

Jeffrey B. Howell

Education: Howell earned a master's degree in management from Oklahoma State University in 2012 and a bachelor's in fire science from Southern Illinois University in 2002.

Experience: Howell has been the chief of the Lake Forest Fire Department in Illinois since 2007. Before becoming a firefighter in 1989, he worked as a welder and a technician for fire suppression units.

James M. Ponkauskas

Education: Ponkauskas received an associate degree in fire science from Blackhawk Technical College in 1995 and is working toward a bachelor's degree in fire and emergency response management at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Experience: Ponkauskas has been the Janesville Fire Department deputy chief of emergency medical services since 2014. He joined the department in 1994 and has worked as a firefighter, paramedic, lieutenant and shift commander. He also acted as the chief of Orfordville's fire department from 1999 to 2012.

Robert L. Smith

Education: Smith earned a bachelor's degree is fire and safety engineering technology from the University of Cincinnati in 2007. He has also received degrees from the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the National Radio Institute in Washington, D.C.; and the Community College of the Air Force in Montgomery, Alabama.

Experience: Smith acted as the chief of the Pike Township Fire Department near Indianapolis, Indiana, from 2012 until February 2015, when he resigned for “temporary personal issues.” Before that, he was the fire chief of two Michigan fire departments, beginning in 1991. He also acted as fire chief for an Air National Guard base in Michigan from 1980 to 2008.