He understands fires from both sides of the fight.
Jerame Simmons, assistant chief at the Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire Department in St. Claire, Illinois, has just scored a big promotion to acting fire chief.
But not everyone is cheering on his success as Simmons is a convicted arsonist.
“I think it’s appalling and disgusting,” said former chief John Rosencranz, who was removed from that position by the department’s board of trustees in a meeting on Monday, Dec. 20, while Simmons sat nearby at the same table, in footage captured by St. Louis, Missouri, station KTVI Fox 2.
“There is no confidence in your leadership,” Laura Rosencranz, former fire captain and wife of the ex-chief, also sounded off during the meeting.
Board members assured the department they had good reason to oust Rosencranz and elect Simmons in the interim, though they did not share their reasoning. The announcement prompted 10 of the department’s 13 volunteers to immediately resign. In protest, one of the impassioned firefighters took off his over-shirt and protective uniform and tossed them in front of the board members as he left the room.
Simmons, 38, pleaded guilty to arson when he was 18 years old after setting fire to a vacant home, then another small blaze at a high school, for which he served probation, according to Fox 2.
Despite Simmons’ record, he’s got emergency services in his blood. His dad, Herb Simmons, was the long-time director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency.
Volunteers who stepped down released a page-long statement on Wednesday via Facebook, accusing the board of violating the Open Meetings Act of Illinois when they previously elevated Simmons to assistant chief behind closed doors, without a vote, on Aug. 26.
“We the resigned firefighters of the Praire Du Pont Fire Department are calling upon the Attorney General’s office, the Illinois General Assembly, and any other relevant agencies to investigate this matter,” it began.
“This appointment was illegal being Mr. Simmons had not been voted onto the fire department by the membership body of our association, nor had a clear background check,” the letter continued. “We are … calling for the entire board’s immediate resignations due to their reckless inability to provide a suitable chief, adequate fire protection coverage, provide safe and ethical work practices and legal officer appointments.”
Critics reacted by calling it a case of “nepotism” as well as and “small town political shenanigans” in response the Facebook post.
Simmons was also recently granted a pardon by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“It’s a pardon. Still, the town remembers the school being set on fire,” Laura Rosencranz told reporters following the meeting. “The town remembers the house set on fire where we had firefighters fall and be injured.”
“We’re not going to have the adequate protection here. It’s not going to be as it should be here,” added her husband.
The couple also seemed disturbed by the timing of the change, just days before Christmas, as they themselves lost their home to a Christmas Day fire just seven years ago.
“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,” added John Rosencranz, who has vowed to bring the case to the St. Clair County Board.
The chiefs of two nearby departments phoned in a vote of confidence for Simmons, whom they said had years of experience at area departments. They also promised to send volunteers in their own ranks as the department seeks new firefighters to replace those who quit.