Firefigher Dies From Hepatitis 33 Years After Exposure03:45

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His fellow Pittsfield firefighters called him "Todd," but Thomas J. Lange was no ordinary guy.

A loving father and husband, he took his work just as seriously as his family responsibilities. Acting Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski says Lange was exactly the kind of colleague you would wish for during a call.

Thomas J. Lange (Courtesy Bob Czerwinski)
Thomas J. Lange (Courtesy Bob Czerwinski)

"The kind of guy you knew when you went into a fire, he was going to back you up," Czerwinski said. "He wouldn't take you any place he didn't feel was safe to go."

Just as he took care of his fellow firefighters, Lange did everything he could to save the people affected by fires. Ultimately, he paid for that dedication — with his life.

When responding to a call in 1978, Lange was forced to provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a patient in respiratory distress. Lange then helped transport the ailing patient to Berkshire Medical Center, where the emergency responders were greeted with disturbing news.

"A person at the hospital knew the condition of the patient and turned right around and said, 'this guy has hepatitis,'" Czerwinski said.

Twenty years later, in 1998, Lange started to show symptoms of the disease. In February 2010, he was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer. On May 22, Todd Lange died, 33 years after helping save another man's life.

Czerwinski says emergency response guidelines have changed enormously since 1978.

"I was a volunteer firefighter back then, and when we went in, our hands got bloody and we would give mouth to mouth," Czerwinski said. "We did all kinds of things we wouldn't dream of doing today."

Firefighter deaths as a result of on-duty exposure to blood-borne illnesses remain extremely rare. The United States Fire Administration reports that only nine firefighters have died from blood-borne diseases and three of them have been from Massachusetts.

While Lange died after he retired from the fire department, he is still considered to have died in the line of duty. A funeral was held last week and firefighters from across the region attended.

"He deserves all of the recognition he can get and people should learn by his death as we do with any firefighter death," Czerwinski said. "What to do, how to change your life, so that you go home after every call."

Thomas "Todd" Lange is survived by his wife, parents, two sons and grandchildren.

This segment aired on May 31, 2011.