Fire Chief Changes a Hot Topic for Prairie Du Pont | Republic Times

Former Prairie Du Pont firefighters Josh Davidson and Bobbie Borders share a candle during a vigil for the late firefighter Randy Sullivan who passed away earlier this year. Laura Rosenkranz, a former captain, said the district fire protection board told her it couldn’t hold such events months ago. With the figurative fires the department past and present has endured over the past week, she said it was time to welcome the long-awaited memorial.

A handful of community members gathered last Wednesday evening outside the Prairie Du Pont fire station in Dupo.

By the end of the night, they had called for the resignation, held a candlelight vigil and called the police to the scene.

These events stemmed from a December 20 meeting that made national news.

Five days before Christmas, the District Fire Protection Board of Directors named Jerame Simmons Sr. — who was convicted and later pardoned for starting a fire decades ago at Dupo High School — acting fire chief and in doing so removed John Rosenkranz from the position of leader. .

In response, firefighter Bobbie Borders threw his shirt on the board, later bringing his gear to the forefront of the table. Borders was one of 10 firefighters who immediately quit.

Two press releases from the Prairie Du Pont Fire Protection District Council said “the council did not act lightly” in making its decision to replace John Rosenkranz as chief.

A statement dated Dec. 19, which was distributed immediately after the Dec. 20 meeting, said that “it has become apparent to the board over the past few months that a change in the leadership of the fire service is required.” .

The latest statement, dated Dec. 23, said “the board lacked confidence” that John Rosenkranz could serve as chief, prompting them to make the switch.

This release continued to address concerns surrounding the incident that led to Simmons being convicted of arson 23 years ago.

“While the board was aware of Acting Chief Simmons’ background, the criminal matter cited by some former members was granted a full pardon,” the press release said. “Acting Chief Simmons has served with distinction in several fire departments and public service positions in our region. He has also received the endorsement of several area fire chiefs, who have expressed their support for Acting Chief Simmons and their agreement with the actions taken by the Board of Directors to bring about a change in the leadership of the fire department.

The board did not respond Republic Times when asked which area fire chiefs supported the council’s decision.

Also in the Dec. 19 statement, the district fire board said arrangements have been made with neighboring fire departments to provide any necessary coverage to Prairie Du Pont in the event of a staff shortage in the fire department. fire would occur as a result of the change of command.

Now, the Prairie Du Pont Fire Department isn’t as short-staffed as it was at the start of last week.

John Parke, an administrator with the District Fire Protection Board, said “several” people who resigned while John Rosenkranz led the department are returning under Simmons’ leadership.

According to a new department Facebook page, Wade Bivins, Nathan Stefanski and Kyle Foutch are now engineers. Stefanski was one of three firefighters who did not resign when Simmons was named acting chief.

John and Laura Rosenkranz said the information provided in these board announcements did not provide sufficient reason for the change in management.

Laura Rosenkranz, who was department captain before stepping down and is married to John, said the couple had received no further response as of press time.

“It’s outrageous,” Laura Rosenkranz said. “I don’t know why I think this is happening.”

In a petition seeking replacement of the District Fire Protection Board of Directors – Parke, Randy Bolle and Bryan Reddick, Laura Rosenkranz alleged that the district had violated the Open Meetings Act in the past by not providing information. agendas, schedules, budgets and other required postings.

Laura Rosenkranz told the Republic Times she had to file Freedom of Information Act requests for financial information she said was needed to apply for grants, as well as other documents such as meeting agendas. She said that even then she had not received all the information she had requested.

“We don’t know why (John Rosenkranz would be replaced) except that we ask for the basic information that the public is supposed to have; basic information like minutes. Anyone should be able to come to the board meeting and get minutes,” Laura Rosenkranz said.

The board declined to comment on the matter, and Simmons did not respond to multiple requests for comment from this newspaper.

Simmons was named deputy fire chief by the district fire department board at an Aug. 26 meeting that Rosenkranzes said was held in violation of the open meeting law.

The 1993 arson isn’t the only reason the Rosenkranzes and other fire department members who quit have said they feared Simmons might be acting chief. Some have cited allegations that Simmons impersonated a police officer, some of which Belleville New Democrat reported for the first time.

The December 23 board statement said “claims some of these former members are now making in social media and news reports are not accurate.”

Asked by the Republic Times which “statements” this sentence referred to, Parke did not elaborate.

Laura Rosenkranz said she fears that Simmons does not have all the training required to answer certain calls.

“There are so many fears,” she said. “(Wednesday night) they had a car accident. I don’t know if any of them are trained to use our extrication tools. I don’t know if any of them had extrication classes. I don’t know if any of them know how to fight a vehicle fire. I don’t know if they have the training. I worry about their safety, and then I worry about the safety of our residents, because if you don’t know what you’re doing on these scenes, people get hurt and killed.

Kyle McIntyre previously worked with Simmons when they were both at Brooklyn Fire & Rescue Company 13. He said he was a captain when Simmons was chief, and thanks to his experiences working with Simmons, he doesn’t think that Simmons is fit to act as leader of Prairie. DuPont.

He said Simmons was supposed to hold drills on Monday nights, but he didn’t.

“He’s going to get somebody killed or hurt,” McIntyre said.

The Rosenkranzes discussed related concerns last Wednesday evening. John Rosenkranz read a prepared statement calling for an investigation into the matter, the board to rescind Simmons’ appointment as interim chief, and calling on the board to resign.

Former firefighters and concerned community members passed candles after John Rosenkranz’s statement in memory of Randy Sullivan, a longtime member of the department who died earlier this year. As flickering flames illuminated the fire station sign and the two accompanying toy fire trucks, the crew sang “Silent Night.”

Laura Rosenkranz said the vigil was long overdue, as she said the board told firefighters they couldn’t hold such an event at the fire station months ago after the death of Sullivan.

Shortly before 10 p.m. last Wednesday, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department deputies responded to a call at Prairie Du Pont Fire Station No. 1. According to a police report, John Rosenkranz said Bivins threatened to kill Borders, one of 10 firefighters who quit. when Simmons was named acting chief.

Bivins would have left before the arrival of the police.

Bivins did not respond to requests for comment on this.

A second petition started by Laura Rosenkranz asks the board to rescind Simmons’ appointment and reinstate John Rosenkranz as chief “until a time to really discuss personnel matters is allowed.” He alleges that the board acted unlawfully in appointing Simmons because Laura Rosenkranz believes he lacked the experience required by law and that a person who has been convicted of a crime in the State cannot be named to the fire department.

This petition was not specifically about pardoning Simmons for the 1998 incident. The pardon was requested by the Simmons family and recently granted by Governor JB Pritzker.

The board declined to comment on the charges mentioned in these petitions.

Jerame Simmons Sr. did not respond to the Republic Times despite multiple attempts to contact him.

Herb Simmons, the father of Jerame Simmons Sr. who is also a longtime mayor of East Carondelet and director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, had no comment on the ordeal other than to reiterate that the District Fire Protection Board operates independently. from the village.

Inquiries were directed to St. Clair County Council Chairman Mark Kern, a Democrat, who did not respond for comment.

St. Clair County District 16 Commissioner David Langford of Dupo, who represents the Prairie Du Pont Fire District Service Area, is a member of the County Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Langford, a Republican, defeated Bolle, a Democrat, for the District 16 county council seat in the November 2020 election, replacing Democrat June Chartrand.

“You would like to speak to Mark Kern for more details regarding fire district appointments in Prairie Du Pont,” Langford told the Republic Times.

Langford, owner of Champion Dry Cleaners in Columbia, added that this district fire board was already in place when he took office.

“I only recommended replacing the secretary last year,” he said.

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Jessica C. Bell