Dec. 22—The Prairie Du Pont Fire District has fallen into chaos.
Its three-member board of trustees replaced the fire chief on Monday with a controversial assistant chief who was convicted of arson 23 years ago and who has been reported for safety violations.
That caused 10 out of 13 volunteer firefighters to resign, according to the former fire chief, John Rosenkranz, 37, of East Carondelet.
The district’s Facebook page, which functions as its official website, is being used by both supporters and opponents of the new acting fire chief, and the latter are calling on the St. Clair County Board to remove members of the Prairie Du Pont board.
“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,” according to a “no confidence” letter sent to the county board from the ” Prairie Du Pont Fire Department.”
“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.”
Prairie Du Pont serves about 2,500 people who live in a 14-square-mile area that includes East Carondelet and some homes with Dupo, Cahokia Heights, Millstadt and Columbia zip codes.
The new acting fire chief is Jerame Simmons, 42, of Dupo, who has served as a firefighter with several metro-east departments over the years. The Prairie Du Pont board promoted him to assistant chief last summer, demoting John Rosenkranz’s wife, Laura Rosenkranz.
The board called a special meeting at 3 p.m. Monday to replace John Rosenkranz with Simmons.
Board members later issued a statement on Facebook, saying that they appreciated Rosenkranz’s service but determined in the last several months that new leadership was needed.
“The Board is aware that some of the current officers and members of the Fire Department may disagree with the Board’s decision, however, the position of the fire chief under state law is at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees …
“In order for that position to be effectively served, the trustees must have a good working relationship with the person serving as chief and it must have confidence in the leadership being provided. When that is not the case, it is the Board’s duty to make changes which it determines are appropriate.”
Governor granted pardon
Jerame Simmons is the son of Herb Simmons, mayor of East Carondelet, a village of 390 people, and executive director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, which provides 911 services.
Jerame Simmons pleaded guilty in St. Clair County Circuit Court to felony arson and having an illegal “oscillating emergency light” on his personal vehicle in 1998. (He was a firefighter at the time.) He later successfully completed four years of intensive probation.
According to court documents, Jerame Simmons went to the basement of Dupo High School, gathered toilet paper and ceiling tiles and lit them on fire, knowing that a woman was present in the building. The small fire didn’t lead to a larger fire, and no one was injured.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned Jerame Simmons in the arson case, but that doesn’t “absolve” him of the crime, according to the Prairie Du Pont firefighters’ letter to the county board.
Jerame Simmons couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, nor could members of the Prairie Du Pont board. Phone calls weren’t being answered at the fire station by employee or voicemail.
Jerame Simmons posted a video on his personal Facebook page, showing a clip of John and Laura Rosenkranz being interviewed by TV news reporters after the Prairie Du Pont special meeting next to a laughing emoji. The video was set to The Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It also included a portion of the board’s statement.
John and Laura Rosenkranz were among those who resigned Monday.
“It’s not about me being chief or the other (firefighters),” John Rosenkranz said by phone Tuesday. “It’s about this reckless, lawless board that is going to hurt or kill somebody, lose property and promote destruction in this area.”
John Rosenkranz called the personnel change “retaliation” for his efforts to obtain basic information on district finances that he needed to prepare budgets and apply for grants so firefighters could update their equipment and maintain a safe operation.
John Rosenkranz said he was forced to file Freedom of Information Act requests for such information.
Other departments on call
Herb Simmons stated in a private Facebook message Tuesday that Prairie Du Pont is a separate entity out of his purview as mayor of East Carondelet and that he hasn’t attended one of its board meetings in 30 years.
When asked if he’s concerned about what might happen if a fire breaks out in the community after the resignation of so many firefighters, Herb Simmons stated, “I was told last night by members of the fire district board that wasn’t true.”
The board addressed the potential problem in its statement:
“The Board hopes that members of the Fire Department will work with the Acting Chief to provide quality emergency services to the residents and property owners of the District during this transition period,” it read.
“While the Board hopes it will not be necessary, arrangements have been made by the District with neighboring fire departments to provide any needed coverage within the Prairie Du Pont District in the event that any personnel shortages in the Fire Department should occur as a result of the Board’s action.”
Prairie Du Pont was organized in 1941 and became an official fire district in 1948, according to its Facebook page. The St. Clair County Board is responsible for appointing its board of trustees under state law.
In 2008, Jerame Simmons was charged with several offenses in Monroe County related to an order of protection filed against him by his wife. One charge was impersonating a police officer. That was dismissed in return for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor involving an order of protection violation.
In 2018, Jerame Simmons received supervision in St. Clair County Circuit Court for misdemeanor disorderly conduct resulting from an altercation with the manager of Country Rock Cabernet strip club in Sauget.
The manager originally reported that Jerame Simmons pulled a gun on him and announced, “I’m a police officer,” after the manager removed Simmons’ wife from the club for being disruptive. Officials later took his word for it that he was holding a vaping device in his fist.
Rosenkranz said he has reported Jerame Simmons for violating safety regulations while fighting fires but that he was told he didn’t have the authority to reprimand or discipline him.
“They removed me because they couldn’t control me when they were being reckless, (like) skimping on equipment,” Rosenkranz said. “… I did my job, and I did it pretty well with what I was given.”
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