Firefighting a family affair for Illinois State long snapper Peyton Cramer

Illinois State long snapper Peyton Cramer, along with his father, Craig, are part of three generations of the family to become volunteer firefighters. (Photo courtesy Cramer family)

By Barry Bottino

Between practices, workouts and games, football keeps Illinois State long snapper Peyton Cramer quite busy.

“Playing college football is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Cramer, a sophomore reserve from Pontiac High School who is currently in spring practices with the Redbirds in advance of their April 9 Spring Game. “It’s a good feeling knowing that I’ve gotten to this point.”

While football and academics take up the bulk of his schedule, Cramer has spent plenty of time away from the Normal campus pursuing his future career path.

Peyton is now his family’s third generation – including his late grandfather, Kenny, and father, Craig – to serve on the all-volunteer Saunemin Fire Department. The village of approximately 400 residents in Livingston County sits about 50 miles northwest of Illinois State’s campus.

Since last spring, Cramer has been on numerous calls during his breaks from school, responding to the needs of local residents with medical issues or car crashes for the Saunemin department, where his father is the assistant chief.

While home on Christmas break, on the evening of Dec. 25, Peyton Cramer responded to his very first fire call. A chimney fire had spread through a home in Pontiac – one of the communities where the Saunemin department provides mutual aid.

Peyton Cramer

“The adrenaline was definitely pumping,” Cramer said. “Everything was moving fast. It didn’t really set in until I got my gear on and I got in the truck, and we were going there.”

Cramer said Pontiac firefighters did a good job of knocking the fire down before Saunemin arrived.

“After the fire was out, me and another guy went in and put tarps over all of the homeowners’ belongings,” he said. “That protects it from further water damage.”

Family affair

Kenny Cramer served in the department for approximately 10 years before his death in 1986, when Craig was 9.

In December 1999, Craig Cramer was newly married when a friend encouraged him to come to a meeting at the local firehouse.

The Wednesday meetings of the all-volunteer Saunemin department fit perfectly into his schedule, as it turned out.

“My wife was working 3-to-11 (p.m.) at the time, and I needed something to do on Wednesdays,” he said. “I’ve been there ever since.”

Craig Cramer, whose day job is running the laundry department at the Pontiac Correctional Facility, said the Saunemin department includes local farmers and mechanics as well.

Though the department had what Craig Cramer called a long-standing unwritten rule that people under 21 couldn’t join, it amended the rule for Peyton, who was 19 when he joined last year.

“The main driving force was to have another set of hands to help people,” Peyton Cramer said. “I’m the youngest there by five to 10 years. It also promotes younger kids like me to get involved in the fire service.”

Craig Cramer said for rural departments like Saunemin, recruiting new team members can be difficult.

According to 2017 data from the National Fire Protection Association, only 23% of volunteer firefighters across the U.S. are under age 29. Meanwhile, more than half are over 40.

“It can be a struggle,” Craig Cramer said. “One thing that was always strictly stressed was that your family comes first. There might be times when it’s only you taking the truck out.”

Where football meets firefighting

A tight end/defensive end in high school, Peyton Cramer honed his snapping skills with private coaches Chris Rubio and Neal Dahlman in the Chicago area. Last fall, serving as a backup to ISU starting snapper Joey Malinowksi, Cramer had one punt snap in a game against Butler.

“That was pretty cool,” he said. “It was just like practice. All I could hear was the cadence. It was pretty good, and everything was in rhythm.”

While sharpening his skills as a snapper, Peyton Cramer’s interest in firefighting also started to blossom.

He enrolled in a high school fire science class that was taught by a full-time Pontiac firefighter.

“We would go to the fire station three times a week,” Peyton Cramer said. “We would do different training exercises.”

Craig Cramer said he sees similarities between his son’s pressure-packed job on the football field and being a firefighter.

“The ball could be backed up on the 3-yard line and he’s snapping it into the end zone,” he said.

When responding to a call as a firefighter, being in control of your emotions is paramount.

The biggest thing is you’ve got to be calm,” Craig Cramer said. “You’ve got all hell breaking loose around you, so if you aren’t calm, then nobody else around you is going to be calm.”

Serving the community

When Peyton Cramer arrives at a call, he understands the emotions of the moment.

“Whenever we go, somebody’s worst moment of their life is happening,” he said. “We try to make it better.”

During his son’s time with the department, Craig Cramer said he has seen how Peyton’s demeanor fits with his fellow firefighters and the people they serve.

“He’s an extremely hard worker and he’s got a very good personality,” Craig Cramer said. “He’s able to talk to people.”

Peyton Cramer is working toward a degree in horticulture and landscape management at Illinois State. He plans to work as a full-time firefighter after college and use his degree to work outdoors when he’s not on duty.

“I’m really excited that my dad got me involved (in the fire department),” Peyton Cramer said. “It’s something I definitely want to do in life. It’s given me a head start on what the job’s going to entail and shown me the things I’m going to experience.

“The reward for me is going on these calls and getting these experiences. Every call is another new training experience,” he said.

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