Questions emerge following news of Ill. chief being once convicted, later pardoned for arson

The leadership change at the Prairie Du Pont VFD has people asking whether pardons matter, what defines an arsonist, and more


News that a man once convicted of arson had been appointed fire chief of a volunteer department in Illinois has stirred significant debate on social media.

On Monday, fire district board members replaced Prairie Du Pont Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief John Rosenkranz with Assistant Chief Jerame Simmons. Ten of the fire department’s 13 firefighters quit on the spot in protest.

Much of the news has focused on the fact that Simmons pleaded guilty to arson more than 20 years ago when he was 18.

Many FireRescue1 readers took to Facebook to debate the news of a fire chief who was once convicted of arson but later pardoned for the crime.
Many FireRescue1 readers took to Facebook to debate the news of a fire chief who was once convicted of arson but later pardoned for the crime. (Photo/Getty)

The story has several unique angles, leading to many questions:

  • Was the membership OK with Simmons serving as assistant chief, just not fire chief?
  • Should it matter that Simmons was pardoned?
  • If someone sets a fire, does that make them an arsonist?
  • Is nepotism an issue here?
  • How will the community respond?

There’s a lot to unpack here, so we’ll take each question one by one, and I’ll share some of the feedback from FireRescue1 readers. Note: I have not personally spoken to the chiefs involved in this situation nor any of the board members.

Was the membership OK with Simmons serving as assistant chief, just not fire chief?

A common theme among commenters is why it was seemingly OK for Simmons to serve as assistant chief, but then members quit when he replaced the existing chief.

I'm confused. According to the story, he was the assistant chief. If you're OK with that, then why not the chief. What else is going on here?

Seems a little late to be upset about this dude being placed in the Chief position. He was already the Assistant Chief. Where was this outrage when he gained that slot?

It’s certainly possible that the members were never comfortable with Simmons serving for the fire department but it only reached the point where they felt compelled to quit when he would ultimately lead the department. Another possibility is that the members simply did not want the existing chief replaced – and Simmons being the replacement was an extra blow, considering his past.

It is not clear at this time why the board chose to replace Rosenkranz.

Should it matter that Simmons was pardoned?

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker pardoned Simmons. Considering the obvious connection to firefighting, the debate surged over whether Simmons should be allowed to work for a fire department. Some argued that it’s essentially too close for comfort to have someone with such a history working around fire so much, while others made the point that pardon is a pardon – it’s “like it never happened.”

Pardoned or not. Commit a felony and entry is denied. He is a step closer to being an arsonist again than anyone else in that department or another department. He has already been one as an adult. Have the very few charged with the crime been given a job in other departments. NO! That's a job the will never have again regardless the time they serve or don't serve. Military men catch a war crime charge, career done. Teacher slap a kid, done. Someone has received special treatment when allowed to be a firefighter and now Chief for however long. 

He paid his debts and even got a full pardon. If he's had a clean record every since why not give the guy a chance.

The Fire Chief may wind up representing the department and municipality in a court case against an arsonist at some point and trust me, it won't go well.

Former Fire Captain Laura Rosenkranz, wife of the former chief Rosenkranz, said regardless of the pardon, “Still, the town remembers the school being set on fire. The town remembers the house set on fire where we had firefighters fall and be injured.”

If someone sets a fire, does that make them an arsonist?

If someone has been convicted of arson, does that mean they have a tendency for pyromania, a mental health condition? Some readers called out the legal definition of arson, while others argued that it is possible to be a rehabilitated arsonist – but they shouldn’t be in the fire service.

Pyros do not comprise the entirety of arsonists. Nice try, though. Not every arsonist has the mental health condition of pyromania. Some people commit arson for jealousy, money, revenge, etc. Arsonists do not have to set more than one fire to be arsonists. I'm not sure where your info is coming from, but it is definitely wrong.

I'm a fire marshal, and a firefighter. Kids do make mistakes. No doubt. Deliberate arson is not a mistake. And it is extremely dangerous to have a convicted arsonist- pardoned or not- in charge of the lives of the men and women in the department.

I believe in second chances. I believe in the inmate firefighter programs and 100% would have them join my department. You want to hire a pardoned arsonist for any other job, I am 100% for it. But not a fire department.

Just setting a couple fires doesn't meet the criteria of a arsonist clinically. Sounds more like a kid who made some bad decisions.

Is nepotism an issue here?

Fox2Now reported that Jerame Simmons is the son of Herb Simmons, the long-time director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency – a fact that had some readers wondering how this impacted the change in leadership.

You got to understand it’s Saint Clair county politics and a bunch of nepotism.

This is just corrupt county government doing what it does. See who the new chief's daddy is and that will tell you all you need to know.

How will the community respond?

One person noted that the high drama in East Carondelet could impact community support.

Then bye bye community support and community support for fundraising.

Former Chief Rosenkranz added: “We’re not going to have adequate protection here. It’s not going to be as it should be here.”

Chiefs from two neighboring departments voiced their support for Simmons, saying he has been a devoted volunteer firefighter for years. They also offered to help with any staffing issues created by the resignations.

Join the conversation on Facebook or in the comments section of the news article.


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