Thursday December 1, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- When Pittsfield firefighter Thomas "Todd" Lange died in May of an infection contracted in the line of duty more than 30 years before, his wife, Pamela, never expected that six months later she would be accepting one of the state's top honors for fire service in his stead.

Lange, a "simple" man by the estimation of those who knew him, would have hated the medal of honor ceremony in Worcester on Wednesday, friends and family said.

"He's sitting up in heaven and laughing at us for going through all this," joked Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, reached by phone as he was returning from the state's 22nd annual Firefighter of the Year Awards Ceremony with Lange's wife and parents and the firefighters union president Tim Bartini.

Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday presented the firefighter's Medal of Honor to Lange's wife and sons Patrick, 35, and Todd, 33.

"He was a simple man, but he just cared about everybody," said Pamela Lange. "If he could help anybody, he never stopped to think about it; he just did it. He was compassionate and a wonderful person."

In Pittsfield in February 1978, Lange performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a man in cardiac arrest, who then vomited into Lange's mouth. The man was a known hepatitis carrier, but protective training that would have prevented the incident was not commonplace in the 1970s. Nearly 20 years later, a fatigued Lange received a Hepatitis C diagnosis. In order to have time to receive treatments, he moved to the city's fire prevention bureau, from which he retired in 2006 on medical disability. In May he passed away at age 60.

"This isn't the type of line of duty death that gets the glamour -- the traumatic injury, the building collapse," Czerwinski said. "This was a really sad case ... it was a well-deserved honor that he should get this [award]."

Also at the Worcester ceremony, two Williamstown firefighters received meritorious conduct awards for rescuing a man trapped in a blaze after he crashed his car into a house in May. Firefighter Sean Peltier and Assistant Chief Michael Noyes were credited with saving the man's life as the house and car fire escalated into an explosion risk.

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6243.