ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. – There were high emotions and high drama at the fire district board meeting in East Carondelet on Monday, as a once-convicted arsonist was named acting fire chief of the Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire Department in St. Clair County, Illinois.
The board removed Chief John Rosencranz from his post and replaced him with Assistant Chief Jerame Simmons. The two were seated at the same table when the change was made.
Board members say they have good reasons for making the change but they have not made those reasons public.
That’s not good enough for all but three of their firefighters.
One firefighter took off his fire department shirt and threw it at the fire district board. Minutes later, he plopped his gear onto the table in front of them.
Ten of the department’s 13 firefighters quit on the spot. Jerame Simmons 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 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, 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.”
Seven years ago, Rosencranz said his family lost their home to a fire on Christmas. The board did not give him a reason for his dismissal, he said.
The chiefs of two neighboring departments, Cahokia and Dupo, 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 planned to take the matter before the St. Clair County Board, on Monday evening.