Peyton Cramer is only 20, but he knows something about taking on pressure-packed challenges.

On the athletic field, Cramer, a sophomore, is the backup long snapper for the Illinois State University Redbird football team. That’s a position that has the potential for plenty of pressure, depending on the game situation. In his life away from football, Cramer is a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Saunemin in Livingston County, near Pontiac. His goal after college is to become a full-time firefighter. Again, more pressure, but his approach to football and fighting fires is calm and matter of fact.

“You have to be perfect in both, whether it’s an emergency or not,” Cramer said.

Joining his hometown fire department is a family tradition now in its third generation. His late grandfather, Kenny Cramer, got things started many years ago. Craig Cramer, Peyton’s dad, has been on the department for over 20 years and currently serves as assistant chief. It was Craig Cramer who got his son involved in the spring of 2021, noting that the small department could use an extra set of hands. It was the right move.   

“I’m really excited about being the third generation in my family to carry on this tradition,” Peyton Cramer said. He added that he’s particularly proud of how pleased his grandmother—Kenny Cramer’s widow, Diane—was on hearing the news. “She was super excited when she heard.”

father and son firefighters pose in their protective gear.
Peyton Cramer, left, and his dad, Craig, are second- and third-generation volunteer firefighters in Saunemin in Livingston County.

By now, Cramer has been out on about 20 calls. Those include motor vehicle accidents, emergency medical service, and fires, including his first fire back in December.

“It was on Christmas Day at night, and it was a house fire that started in a chimney,” Cramer said. “The adrenaline was going. It was another good learning experience, and I got to see how the operation is set up.”

Cramer couldn’t go inside the home until the main fire was extinguished. His duties included putting tarps over furniture, including beds and dressers.

“Our job was to protect the homeowners’ belongings from water damage,” Cramer said. “A big thing in the training aspect is to save people’s lives and their stuff. For example, we’re taught in the Fire Services that you don’t cut a hole in a roof or break a window if you don’t have to.”

Cramer has learned quickly that he likes the public service side of being a firefighter.

“The best thing is knowing that in the worst possible moment of life we try to make someone’s worst day a little better,” he said of that first fire. “It’s a bad feeling that someone’s house burned down but a good feeling that we saved some of their belongings.”

Playing college football and being a firefighter were both longtime dreams for Cramer. He said there are similarities, especially teamwork and communication and being able to do your job efficiently and effectively. A big difference is that Saunemin has less than 20 firefighters, all volunteers, while Cramer has over 100 teammates on the football team. He figures he’s the only firefighter among them. And, even though he only got on the field for one snap this past season, Cramer, a preferred walk-on, is enjoying the experience of playing football while pursuing his degree.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s awesome and something that not many of us get to do.”

He said that the starting long snapper, senior Joey Malinowski, has been a good mentor, and he couldn’t ask for better coaches and teammates. Standing 6-1 and weighing 230, Cramer is the small guy in his Cardinal Court apartment, where his offensive linemen roommates are 6-5, 315 and 6-8, 300.

Cramer is on track to graduate with a degree in horticulture and landscaping in 2025 and then plans to start his career as a firefighter. He’s keeping his options open, but Pontiac has a full-time department and would be a nice fit.

Recently he qualified for his Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation certification through his fire department. With the training and experience he’s getting currently, he knows well how crucial the job of a firefighter is.  

“In real life, there’s all sorts of emotions and adrenaline,” Cramer said. “But, there’s no time in this work to be messing around when you’re trying to save people.”