ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. (KTVI) – There were high emotions and high drama at a fire district board meeting in Illinois Monday, December 20, as a once-convicted arsonist was named acting fire chief of the volunteer fire department.
The board removed John Rosencranz as chief of the Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire Department and replaced him with Assistant Chief Jerame Simmons. The two were seated at the same table when the change was made.
Board members said they had good reasons for making the change but they have not made those reasons public.
That wasn’t good enough reasoning for most of the department’s firefighters. Ten of the department’s 13 firefighters quit on the spot.
One firefighter took off his fire department shirt and threw it at the board. Minutes later, he plopped his gear onto the table in front of them.
Jerame Simmons, the new acting fire chief, is the son of Herb Simmons, the long-time director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency.
Jerame Simmons pleaded guilty to arson more than 20 years ago when he was 18. He was accused of setting fire to a vacant home and setting another, smaller fire, at a high school. He served probation.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has since pardoned him, he said.
“It’s a pardon. Still, the town remembers the school being set on fire,” said former fire captain Laura Rosencranz, wife of the former chief. “The town remembers the house set on fire where we had firefighters fall and be injured.”
“I think it’s appalling and disgusting,” said former chief John Rosencranz. “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.”
The board did not give him a reason for his dismissal, he said. Seven years ago, Rosencranz said his family lost their home to a fire on Christmas.
The chiefs of two neighboring departments said they supported the change and had full confidence in Jerame Simmons as acting chief. He had been a devoted volunteer firefighter at area departments for years, they said. They added that their departments would help fill any gaps in coverage left by the resignations.
Rosencranz and his supporters have plans to take the matter before the St. Clair County Board.