Firefighters turn in their gear after convicted arsonist replaces fire chief in Illinois town

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The board of trustees of one Illinois fire district is under heavy fire right now over their inexplicable, abrupt decision to oust (but not fire) the city’s fire chief and replace him with a convicted arsonist whose father boasts a powerful position in the county’s emergency management agency.

Granted, the arsonist, Jerame Simmons, had been former chief John Rosencranz’s second-in-command. Moreover, Simmons committed the arson 20 years ago at the age of 18.

“Jerame Simmons pleaded guilty to arson more than 20 years ago when he was just 18. He was accused of setting fire to a vacant home and setting another, smaller fire, at Dupo High School. He served probation. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has since pardoned him,” according to station KTVI.

However, resentment still lingers so much that over half of the fire department quit on the spot.

“Still, the town remembers the school being set on fire. The town remembers the house set on fire where we had firefighters fall and be injured,” former fire captain Laura Rosencranz, the wife of the man whom Simmons has replaced, told the station.

Her husband appears to agree.

“I think it’s appalling and disgusting. We’re not going to have the adequate protection here. It’s not going to be as it should be here. I’m kind of blindsided but not. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t expect it to be a couple of days before Christmas,” he told the station.

He added that his family lost their own home during a Christmas fire seven years ago, and that he was taken aback when Simmons was suddenly appointed his assistant chief earlier this fall.

“Rosenkranz said the board held an ‘unusual’ meeting in August in which they announced Simmons would be appointed the department’s acting assistant chief. Rosenkranz said he was not notified of the decision beforehand, even though he typically spent about 40 hours a week at the fire station on top of his full-time job as a teamster,” according to The Washington Post.

Both he and his wife reportedly resigned immediately after the Prairie Du Pont Fire District’s board of trustees announced Rosencranz’s ouster during a hearing Monday.

Laura “told the board its decision was unacceptable,” according to the Post.

She wasn’t alone.


Posted by Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire on Monday, December 20, 2021

“Here’s my gear,” one fighter said as he also resigned.

A total of ten of the department’s 13 firefighters reportedly quit that evening.

Eight of them, including both of the Rosencranz, had signed a joint letter beforehand announcing their intention to resign if Simmons or another man named Wade Bivins was appointed as chief.

“This letter is to inform you, the County Board of Saint Clair County, with regret and sorrow that the majority membership of the PRAIRIE DU POINT FIRE DEPARTMENT below, intends to resign should either Jerome Simmons Sr, or Wade Bivins be appointed by the Prairie Du Pont Fire Protection District Board of Trustees, as FIRE CHIEF,” the letter reads.

Posted by Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire on Monday, December 20, 2021

They’ve since published a couple of follow-up letters, including one in which they accuse Simmons of “continually going against the FIRE CHIEF and questioning his decisions.”

“The past few months have been disheartening. Jerame’s recent behavior on high stakes calls, during training, and illegal activities such as OSHA violations has shown a lack of respect for the department, and the rank structure we adhere to,” the letter reads.

Posted by Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire on Monday, December 20, 2021

In another follow-up letter, this one posted Wednesday, they called on Illinois’s attorney general and state-level lawmakers to investigate not only this matter but Prairie Du Pont Fire District’s board of trustees as well.

“In the past 2 years there have been open meetings act violations, federal background check violations, tort law violations, civil rights violations, discrimination, and sexual harassment issues,” the stinging letter reads.

“The board refuses to hear the departments pleas for the laws and regulations of the State of Illinois and of the Federal Government to be followed. They will not let the public read or look at the minutes of their meetings. There is NO financial report being made to the general public. There are no (postings) of budgets or equipment contracts.”

Posted by Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire on Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Partly at issue is the refusal by the board of trustees to simply explain why they’ve removed Rosencranz. All that they’ve said thus far is that “a change” was needed.

“In taking this step, the board does not act lightly. While the board appreciates the prior service of Chief Rosenkranz, it has become apparent to the board over the last few months that a change in the fire department’s leadership is needed,” they reportedly said in a statement.

Also at issue is possible nepotism.

Simmons’ father is Herb Simmons, the longtime director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency.

This, according to critics, is no coincidence. Nor is it coincidental that Simmons’ father is allegedly a rabid Democrat  (though this hasn’t been confirmed).


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