Majority of fire department quits after chief is replaced by convicted arsonist

An Illinois fire chief was removed from his post Monday and replaced by a man once convicted of arson, prompting 10 of the volunteer fire department’s 13 firefighters to quit on the spot.

“Here’s my gear,” one of the firefighters told the three-person Prairie Du Pont Fire Protection District board of trustees, according to The Washington Post.

It was a dramatic scene in St. Clair County, Illinois, when fire chief John Rosenkranz was removed. Assistant Chief Jerame Simmons was named acting chief in his stead.

“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,” KTVI reported.

Simmons pleaded guilty to felony arson in 1998. According to the Belleville News-Democrat, he set tiles and toilet paper on fire at a high school, knowing that a woman was inside at the time. KTVI reported that he was also accused of setting a vacant home on fire.

Simmons served probation and has since been pardoned by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“It’s a pardon. Still, the town remembers the school being set on fire,” former fire captain Laura Rosencranz, told KTVI. “The town remembers the house set on fire where we had firefighters fall and be injured.”

Laura Rosencranz, the wife of John Rosenkranz, was one of the firefighters to quit. She previously served as assistant chief, until the board of trustees replaced her with Simmons over the summer.

“I think it’s appalling and disgusting,” John Rosencranz added to KTVI. “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.”

John and Laura Rosencranz weren’t the only ones to be incensed.

“It’s inexcusable what this district has done today to these two people and to everybody that’s sitting here that’s a part of this fire department,” a former Prairie Du Pont firefighter told KTVI.

The board of trustees released a statement about its decision, but did not detail its reasoning.

“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,” the board said.

Simmons’ father, Herb Simmons, serves as executive director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency. Herb Simmons is also mayor of East Carondelet, which is part of St. Claire County.

Neighboring fire departments are reportedly set to provide emergency services in the short-staffed Prairie Du Pont Fire District, if needed.