By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Republican state lawmakers want to know how a convicted arsonist could become chief of an Illinois fire department.
Jerame Simmons received a pardon from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and went on to become chief of the Prairie Du Pont Fire Department in St. Claire last December. Simmons pleaded guilty to arson when he was 18 after setting fire to a vacant house, then another small blaze at a high school.
Simmons has had several other run-ins with the law, including in 2008 for falsely impersonating a police officer, a 2016 charge of disorderly conduct, and another charge of disorderly conduct in 2018, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.
In his petition for clemency, the son of the former director of the St. Clair County Management Agency claimed innocence in the arson case and submitted testimony from local officials attesting to his character. Pritzker signed Simmon’s pardon last May 2021.
State Rep. David Friess, R-Red Bud, has introduced House Bill 5693, which requires any person applying for a job as a firefighter to disclose if they have been convicted of arson.
“So you plead guilty to arson and then you become fire chief,” Friess said during a news conference Wednesday. “It absolutely floors me that this can happen.”
Eleven of the department’s 13 firefighters resigned following the fire protection district’s decision to oust the former chief in favor of Simmons.
Volunteers who stepped down released a statement on social media accusing the board of trustees of violating the Open Meetings Act of Illinois when they previously promoted Simmons to assistant fire chief behind closed doors without a vote.
State Rep. Mark Lutz, R-Pekin, said this wouldn’t have happened if not for the governor’s pardon.
“Pritzker’s pardon is a slap in the face to all the hard working, honest firefighters throughout our state who put themselves in harm’s way every day,” Lutz said.
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