Several dozen family, friends and first responders filled the Forest Park Fire Department garage Friday morning to watch Lindsey Hankus make village history by becoming what is believed to be the department’s first female lieutenant.
Hankus, an accomplished triathlete and 16-year veteran of the department, was sworn in by Mayor Rory Hoskins and joined at her side by her 10-year-old son, Frank, who pinned the lieutenant’s badge to his mom’s jacket.
“When I was younger, I loved being a firefighter, loved being on the back step, driving the truck, all the stuff’s like super-fun and it still really is,” Hankus said after the ceremony. “I just feel like right now, I’m ready for it.”
The significance of Hankus’ ascension to a leadership role in an otherwise all-male department was not lost on her either, even in the minutes after her swearing-in Friday, nor was the sense of responsibility she now placed on herself to set a positive example.
“I think for some people, seeing it, seeing a woman in the role means something,” she said. “I do feel like, and I think everybody that’s endeavored on something new feels like, ‘Oh, the margin of error is less for me.’ And it’s not in a bad way or anything, I just feel like for me and my personality, that’s definitely pushed me to be better overall and that’s helped me as a person.”
“I think it’s great,” Fire Chief Phil Chiappetta said of Hankus’ promotion. “It’s going to show the community that women are welcome. … Going forward, people will see that she’s in a leadership role [and say] ‘Hey, maybe this is something that I want to do.’”
Hankus is not the first woman to work in the department, but she has been far outnumbered by her male counterparts throughout her career in Forest Park. Rather than view that solely as a negative, however, Hankus said bringing her perspective to a leadership position will be one of her strengths.
“I don’t want people to think it’s only one certain type of person who can be in any role; it’s not just firefighting,” she said. “The more diversity there is, and I think in every profession, I think the better ideas come about, the [more] points of view. Not that every point of view’s going to be taken but if there’s more to pull from, more information from different sources, that’s the better decision that can get made.”
Hankus had tested to become a lieutenant twice previously, before being selected this round by the village’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. Testing includes an oral interview and written exam. She had a bit of an audition for the job while serving as an “acting officer” during the last year, filling in when a lieutenant was not on duty.
“It’s competitive because it’s a small department but the personalities here, we really do get along,” she said. “We’re super warm and down-to-earth people. … Everybody knows that we’re all trying to do it and it’s our own journey; it’s nothing about anybody else.”
Since being notified she was selected, Hankus said she’s received nothing but positive responses from her colleagues.
“I think everybody’s coming up to me in one way or another and even the police department, I think when they found out I noticed a bunch of emails coming my way like, ‘congratulations!’”
Chiappetta said he’s confident Hankus is prepared for the role and was enthusiastic when describing her performance as a firefighter, saying she combines “book smarts” with quick, sound decision making and common sense.
“She’s excellent, she’s very well-respected, not just in Forest Park but throughout (the area),” he said. “All the towns know her and know her working capabilities.”
Following Hankus’ swearing in, the village also promoted Mark Maylath to deputy fire chief. Maylath was promoted to lieutenant in October 2020. He replaces the now-retired Tim Conrad as deputy chief under Chiappetta.