New Prairie du Pont fire chief speaks

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The first Prairie du Pont Fire Protection District meeting since the department’s former chief was ousted shed some light on why the change was made. 

It also allowed acting chief Jerame Simmons Sr. to break his silence. 

At a Dec. 20 meeting, the fire protection district board of trustees appointed then-assistant chief Simmons as acting chief while simultaneously removing John Rosenkranz from the chief position. 

With the large majority of the department – including Rosenkranz and his wife Laura, who was a captain at the time – resigning immediately and Simmons having been previously convicted of arson and later pardoned, the story made national headlines. 

While he still declined to comment on charges he has since been pardoned for, Simmons said he was previously instructed by the fire district’s attorney to not speak about the chief change. With the fire district board of trustees having held its first open meeting since the incident, Simmons said he could now discuss the change as it related to items mentioned in open session. 

Similar to what board treasurer Bryan Reddick told the Republic-Times, Simmons said the Rosenkranzes did not listen and work well with the board or mutual aid departments, and this in part prompted the change. 

“From what I was told, the chief wasn’t doing what he was asked to do. (The fire district board members) were not really enthused about what was going on there,” Simmons said. “Members were living upstairs when they were not supposed to be … in Engine House No. 1. They had two people residing there (and) the district members advised them you couldn’t live there at the firehouse.” 

Laura said the Prairie Du Pont Fire Department had experienced friction with the Dupo Fire Department, a majority of which she said stemmed from jurisdiction issues. 

As of press time, Dupo Fire Department did not respond to this claim.

Previously, the Rosenkranzes said their relationship with the fire district board was strained – as they said they could not get access to information necessary to apply for grants and other matters.

Laura said that nobody ever lived at the firehouse. She said that at one point the department ran night shifts, but that they were told shortly after Simmons was named assistant chief in August that they could no longer do that. 

“(After that), there may have been a time when people had late calls and they stayed the rest of the night because it was like 3-4 a.m. and they’re like ‘I’m just going to get some sleep here and then go out to work.’ That’s a common thing that happens across fire departments everywhere around here,” Laura said, maintaining there were not any fire department members ever residing at the firehouse. 

At last week’s meeting, the two present board members, Reddick and board president John Parke, voted to file a police report regarding the Rosenkranzes’ fire helmets. The board said neither John nor Laura had turned their helmets in after resigning and explained each helmet is worth over $300. 

“They’ve both been sent registered letters. They’ve been spoken to on the phone and they’ve been spoken to in-person about the helmets,” Simmons said. 

Laura said John’s helmet was left in Engine House No. 1 with the rest of his gear and therefore believes his helmet went missing while in the department’s possession; not his. Both Laura and Simmons said Capt. Jeremy Gleich, one of the few firefighters who did not resign after Simmons’ appointment, had told John to file a police report. 

Both also said John refused, with Laura explaining he did not feel he should file such a report as he was not in possession of the helmet at the time it went missing. 

Laura acknowledged she has her helmet and was planning on buying it – as is common practice among firefighters when they leave a department. Simmons said before the helmet can be purchased, Laura must first turn in the helmet “so we can account for it, but they refuse to do that.” 

“They’re refusing to turn them in but made comments before that they would like to purchase their helmets from the department as memorabilia, but if (John) didn’t have his helmet, why would he want to purchase it?” Simmons asked. 

Simmons maintained the Rosenkranzes have been told that the department must first account for the helmets before they can be purchased, while Laura said she had sent a letter weeks ago expressing her intent to buy her helmet but had not received further communication. 

At last Wednesday’s meeting, the current administration expressed the desire to have a third-party audit completed in addition to an internal audit.

Simmons said financial discrepancies have been discovered, with a recent incident causing particular alarm. 

Simmons said this incident occurred when Laura, who was formerly treasurer of the Prairie Du Pont Firefighters Association, did not sign a letter giving Gleich and Simmons access to the association’s bank account.

“On Oct. 6, 2021, there was a donation given to the association for $500 in cash. Well, when Jeremy Gleich and Laura met up at the bank to get this whole situation taken care of, she handed him over $500 in cash and said ‘This was from a donation from back in October, I thought it was kind of sketchy, that’s why I didn’t put it in the bank.’ So, last week we got into the computer and we found minutes …  that said she deposited that $500 from (a construction company), it was for a fundraiser, into the bank, and all the numbers added up but she never deposited it in there,” Simmons said. 

Laura said there are no discrepancies and “all money is accounted for” in regard to this account, adding she had notified Gleich she still had to deposit some funds and finish paperwork. Laura said because she and former association president Brandon Menees did not sign a liability waiver, the bank froze the assets. 

Simmons said the computer in which the minutes were found on was “locked up” so that new leadership could not have access to it. He said because of this and not being able to locate updated paperwork he said should have been left in the office, he had to contact the State Fire Marshal’s Office and Illinois Fire Service Institute to obtain necessary records. 

Laura denied having destroyed records or locking the computer. 

“I have no idea about any of that,” she said. “Once Jerame got there, I was completely locked out of the computer. I was doing all of the assistant chief duties and jobs but once he got there, they were told to immediately put him in and I was out. He should have had full access, as far as I was aware, to the computer.” 

While such issues may seem like barriers, Simmons said he is not letting it slow his department down from making progress. 

“We’re moving forward in the right direction. We were not with the prior administration,” Simmons said. “The stuff that I’m finding was not taken care of, and right now the team is doing that. Everybody is working together.” 

As of last week’s meeting, Simmons was preparing to have a total of nine firefighters on the force. Simmons disputes initial reports that 10 firefighters had left because of the chief change, stating that only seven actually left. 

Currently, three individuals who had left the Prairie Du Pont Fire Department years before are back on the department, Simmons said. He said these firefighters are Wade Bivins, Tabetha Bivins and Kyle Foutch. 

Prior to last week’s meeting, Tabetha’s lifetime membership in the association had been the subject of scrutiny as some believed that it had been revoked under previous association leaders. 

After further investigation, Gleich had determined there was not any information to prove Tabetha’s membership had been revoked, and because of this she could join her father in coming out of retirement to serve Prairie Du Pont once again, Simmons said. 

“(Her membership) was brought to a vote, it was tied and then it got tabled for the next month’s meeting. It never got brought back up, it’s not in the minutes for that next month and the month after that it never got brought back up, so her lifetime status was never revoked,” Simmons explained of Gleich’s findings. 

Simmons said this was not the first incident of this kind under previous leadership.

“There’s a couple of other ones that they’ve done this to, but we’re trying to reach out to them to get them to come back and they just don’t want to be involved with what was happening. Like Wade (Bivins), he left because of what was going on and I was able to get him to come back,” Simmons said. 

Laura said neither Bivinses had served on the department when John was chief. At the time Tabetha left, John was a captain, Laura said. 

Aside from building up their department, Simmons said he and Gleich are turning their attention toward updating facilities and equipment. 

“All the buildings have not been taken care of, so we’re in the middle of several construction projects that we’re doing,” Simmons said. “The equipment was just not taken care of and us members are bringing that back up to where it should be.” 

The district had authorized a miscellaneous equipment purchase per a proposal Gleich had made at last week’s meeting, which included new lights for fire engines, equipment for extrication use and radio chargers for the two trucks that did not have them. 

Also last week, new lighting was installed at engine houses No. 1 and No. 3.

Lastly, Simmons said the fire current department is forming strong relationships with its mutual aid departments. 

“We are here, we’ve been here. It’s not just us, the mutual aid companies are standing side-by-side with me,” Simmons addressed community members. “I just had a meeting with them (two weeks ago) in East Carondelet. We met down there, we ate dinner and we discussed avenues of moving all of the departments together forward.” 

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