NORMAN — A television show inspired Dana Cramer to become a firefighter.
“My parents were involved in the community,” Cramer said. “My dad was an Optimist member. I thought it (being a firefighter) was a good way to get involved in the community.”
Cramer also enjoyed hit television show, “Emergency!”
“That made it intriguing,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting and a great way to help people.”
Cramer has dedicated his life to helping people, as a firefighter riding the truck to suppress fires and in a number of roles including as a trainer, teaching up and coming firefighters how to protect themselves and others.
“There’s something new every day,” he said.
Maybe that’s why he’s been at it for over three decades. Cramer has worked for the city of Norman’s fire department since 1978. The department has doubled in that time.
“The department’s gotten a lot bigger,” Cramer said. “We have 163 approved positions right now.”
When he started in 1978, Cramer was paid $3.05 an hour. His first day of work was Sept. 11, after raises had been approved in July.
Improvements in technology and equipment have made the job safer and easier over the years. Airpacks were new in 1978, Cramer said. Now airpacks are refined personal alerts built in with safety warnings and heat alarms.
Fire trucks are safer too. Modern fire fighters wear seat belts.
“We used to stand on the back and hang on,” he said. “Everything is a lot safer and better built.”
The number of Norman fire stations has doubled also.
“When I hired on, they were just fixing to open up (Fire Station) No. 4,” he said. “There were 12 guys in my class — 12 litter mates — we’re all brothers.”
Cramer is the “sole survivor” of the litter, he said. The others have all retired.
Asked why he’s still at it, Cramer laughed. He has a son in graduate school at Oklahoma State University and a daughter who’s a freshman at University of Oklahoma. Son, Cody Cramer, was awarded the $1,000 Steve Cain Memorial Scholarship this year.
“Both schools are getting a little of the Cramer household money,” he said.
But it’s pretty clear from talking to him that Cramer’s continued service to the city goes well beyond a desire to pay for college tuition.
Despite better equipment and technology, fire fighters still risk injury and worse every time they go out on a call. And while equipment has improved, there are new hazards on the job.
Walls and roofs made of synthetics create dangerous smoke issues, for example. Cramer said his wife, Diana, focuses on the good side of his job — service to others — rather than worrying about the dangers of the job.
“She knows I’m well-trained,” he said. “I go to as many training classes and conferences as I can to stay up-to-date.”
He’s also passionate about training his fellow firefighters. While he doesn’t have the data to prove what he’s witnessed through the years, Cramer said firefighters with three to eight years of experience are often at the greatest risk.
“They think they know more than what they really know,” he said. “I was in the same boat.”
Now, he tries to be a good role model.
“Being over in training, I try to set a good example,” he said.
He shares his experiences to help new recruits not make the same mistakes he’s made. Two firefighters Cramer helped for their first promotions eventually ended up as fire chiefs, Johnny Vaughn and current Norman Fire Chief James Fullingim.
“Dana’s always been there for me,” Fullingim said.
“I just like helping people,” Cramer said. “It’s fun seeing guys progress through the ranks.”
Cramer has served in a number of capacities and been recognized with many awards through the years, but the one that still means the most was the David Bain Award presented by the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association. Cramer was the award’s first-ever recipient. The award recognizes service to community and to the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association by a person who also possesses attributes that coincide with involvement in youth programs through church, school, or community. The award recipients are roles models with “impeccable characters” according to the OSFA website.
But the attributes the David Bain Award recognizes aren’t the reason, Cramer becomes emotional when asked about it. Bain was a Midwest City firefighter who became one of Cramer’s closest friends before his death from cancer.
“That was a big loss,” Cramer said.
The Bain Award is considered so special, it’s not even given out every year.
“It caught me totally off-guard,” Cramer said. “I don’t know why I got it.”
Those who know Dana Cramer aren’t surprised, however.
“Dana exemplifies the Norman Fire Department, he is what we wish every Norman firefighter would be like,” Fullingim said.
Joy Hampton 366-3539 firstname.lastname@example.org