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May 24, 2011

Mass. firefighters salute brother who died from CPR

By Jenn Smith
The Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Dot and Bob Spaniel and their grandson, Jamie, stood quietly near the corner of West and Onota streets on Monday morning watching a procession of fire trucks and firefighters dressed in formal attire slowly march by.

"This little guy loves" the firefighters, Dot Spaniel said, gesturing to the knee-high youngster staring wide-eyed at Engine 6. Unbeknownst to the child, Engine 6 carried the casket holding Marine Corps veteran and longtime Pittsfield firefighter Thomas "Todd" Lange.

"He's too young to understand," the grandmother explained. "But for us, with all the Pittsfield Fire and Police departments do, the least we could do was stop and stand to pay tribute."

Lange, 60, of Pinegrove Drive, died at his home on Friday, surrounded by his family. It was the same day as the annual Firemen's Ball.

"I was at home getting ready, when I got the call from his son. I just broke down and cried," said Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski.

In addition to the loss of Lange, the department lost two other retired personnel within the last month.

"Then I put on a happy face and went to the event, because that's what he would've wanted. I made an announcement there, as some people didn't know. It was a long time coming, but it was the hardest thing I've ever done," the fire chief said.

In 1978, Lange was on a medical call and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on an individual who, unbeknownst to the firefighter, had Hepatitis C.

"This was before the time of blood-borne pathogen and safety training and the use of mouth guards," said Czerwinski, who said those modern precautions are commonplace today.

During the last decade, symptoms of the viral disease Lange contracted began to emerge. Still, the firefighter continued his service, retiring as a fire inspector for the department's Fire Prevention Bureau in June 2006.

"After he knew he was sick, he gave himself to research, clinical trials, experimental medications and the like. He was a firefighter. He wanted to save lives and that was what he did," Czerwinski said.

In addition, Lange was known to help others in the community over the years. He would bring a plate of food to a down-and-out neighbor on Thanksgiving, or he and his wife of 36 years, Pamela, would pick up a quart of milk and drop it off to a stranger he knew was in need.

Two weeks prior to his death, Lange, who had been treated with chemotherapy, went home to the care of hospice and his family at the advice of his doctor.

The Fire Department notified Mayor James Ruberto that the city would have to plan a formal funeral.

Pittsfield and other area firefighters volunteered to clean, polish and decorate Engine 6, the last truck and the last company Lange served on. By the time they were done, the 20-year-old engine looked brand new.

"He was one of the good guys," Ruberto said of Lange. "There's just a brotherhood within this fire department. Each of them truly does care for the other, and it's this kind of tradition that carries them in a time of need such as this."

They, and other fire and police personnel of all ranks, active and retired, from the Berkshires and beyond, filled St. Mark's Church alongside public officials and Lange's loved ones.

After the ceremony, the fallen firefighter's brothers in service carried him out of the church, and lifted him into the back of Engine 6.

Said Czerwinski, "These guys, whether career or volunteer, always show up to get the job done. They were here 110 percent for their family today."

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