Superior’s fire chief is making plans to step into retirement Sept. 30 after a 26-year career with the department.
Steve Panger plans to take the first few months just to unwind from the department he’s led since 2012 and spend time with family.
“I have an 11- and 12-year-old right now,” Panger said. “They’re at a point right now where they’re really busy so it’s going to be really great. I feel fortunate to be in this position where I can retire and spend some time with my family and my kids when they’re so active … I will have plenty of things to keep me busy.”
A Cloquet native and 1984 Cloquet High School alumnus, Panger graduated from the fire program at Duluth Technical College (now Lake Superior College) in 1991. He later earned a Bachelor of Science in fire science from Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Panger started his career with the Superior Fire Department on Sept. 6, 1993.
“I actually spent 13 years as a firefighter before I was able to have an opportunity to promote … the next six years as a driver and captain, and at the end of 2012, I was appointed fire chief,” Panger said.
The Police and Fire Commission will be notified Wednesday, July 10, of Panger’s plans and begin the process of hiring the city’s next fire chief.
Panger said when he took over leadership of the Superior Fire Department almost seven years ago, his No. 1 goal was to improve the city’s Insurance Services Organization rating, which helps determine insurance rates for businesses and residential properties in the city. On the 1-10 scale, lower numbers are better ratings, and Superior had a 5 and 9 split ISO rating.
“I remember this like it was yesterday. Interviewing in front of the PFC, certainly one of my focuses was to improve our ISO rating,” Panger said. “That was one thing I wanted to work on immediately.”
The primary ways the department achieved the improved rating was by improving its inspection program to get to 100% compliance, tracked training to make sure it was well documented and with the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants that allowed the department to increase the number of firefighters within the department, Panger said. Now, the city’s ISO rating is 3 overall.
Now, with the new fire tower for training and staffing levels permanently funded by the Council at the higher levels made possible with the SAFER grants, Panger said the fire department is in a good place going forward to maintain, and possibly improve its ISO rating.
The newly funded firefighters were beginning their orientation Monday, July 8, as they join the department.
During his tenure as fire chief, Panger said all the city’s fire halls needed work. Headquarters was in the worst condition and was replaced. Two weeks ago, firefighters working at headquarters made the move to its new building. But the fire halls in North End and East End also had improvements, including weatherization, new windows and driveway replacements.
“We did manage to get a fair amount done on those facilities as well,” Panger said.
However, Panger’s leadership was put to the test last year when an explosion ignited the Husky refinery in Superior. By then, Panger had spent years preparing, working and training with local industry to prepare for the worst. Before the day ended, the fire was largely extinguished, allowing residents to return to their homes the following day.
“We really started working on that in 2013,” Panger said. By 2014, training was part of the preparation for emergency responses with Superior's large industries.
“At the time … you’re doing what you’re trained to do,” Panger said. He said while you expect the worst, the training and time invested in preparing brought about a better-than-expected outcome.
“There’s a lot of people that worked on that to make that incident go as smoothly as it did,” Panger said.
The Pine Journal contributed to this story.