June 6, 2019
Larry Lange, a well-known
fixture in The Dalles who served as a long-time firefighter and Santa
Claus, died unexpectedly at his home June 6, 2019. He was 73.
He was hired by The Dalles Fire Department in 1965, and retired from
Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue in 2006, following a 41-year career.
He had a landscaping business and had served as Santa Claus until health
slowed his movement. He was everybody's 'real' Santa over many years,
Mike Ballinger said last year, doing hundreds of appearances at public
events and for families. He was given a surprise Christmas caroling
at his house last December in honor of his decades-long service to The
Dalles as a "very memorable Santa Claus," Ballinger said at
"For more than a generation, Larry's enthusiastic generosity in
the role of Santa created indelible memories for community members of
all ages," Ballinger said.
He also owned Big Lar's Landscaping.
MCFR Lt./paramedic Joel Brown said it is rare in the fire service to
run across a firefighter whom everyone loves, but everyone who had worked
with Lange agreed that "Larry was the most loved, biggest hearted
and despite his size, the most gentle firefighter we have ever worked
with. Larry, through his actions, taught us a lot about compassion and
respect. If these qualities were not enough, he was hilarious to work
with as well."
Brown recounted a story about going to a house fire off Kelly Avenue,
where an elderly lady was inside who the firefighters were familiar
with because of medical calls. The woman didn't mentally comprehend
that her house was on fire, Brown recounted, and kicked and screamed
and yelled at firefighters trying to rescue her.
"She was very small and Larry scooped her right up, flung her over
his shoulder in true firefighter fashion and extricated her from the
house," Brown said.
In doing so, her wig fell off, so Lange found it and came up behind
her to put it on her, but it wasn't oriented right, so he spent time
twisting it until it was properly in place, he said.
"It was classic Larry, making certain this lady looked good in
spite of the chaos that was occurring around us at the moment. Larry
Lange stories are legendary and forever woven into the fabric of our
fire department and community. He was one of a kind."
Mark Roth, who hired on at the fire department a few years after Lange
and retired in 2014 as a captain, worked the same shift with him for
"Larry's just one of those guys that was tireless. If there was
something to do, he did it."
Lange was "very good with people," Roth said. On calls, he
was "always very courteous, almost to the point of just really
loving the people that he worked for. That kind of servant heart."
Lange was promoted to engineer form firefighter in early 1967, and never
promoted up from that, because he wanted to go on calls and didn't want
to be in charge of others, Roth said.
"Larry was stronger than a mule. The man was incredibly strong,"
Roth said. He recounted going to a wreck where a badly hurt woman was
trapped in a car. This was in the days before extraction tools even
existed. Roth was yanking on the door with no success, and said they'd
have to get some tools to wedge it open.
"He got this wild look in his eye because this gal is hurt pretty
bad and he grabs hold of that door and literally rips it off the car,
not just opened it, ripped it off the car, hinges and all," Roth
"But that was Larry, he did all sorts of that kind of stuff throughout
his career," he said.
Lange had his landscaping business before he joined the fire department,
and Roth once tried working for him, but couldn't keep up. "In
fact, there were three of us, we couldn't keep up with him. He could
outwork four or five people, it was just amazing."
Lange did landscaping "for everybody in town. He was good, his
designs were very good. He could've easily done landscaping as his only
business, but he loved being a fireman. He didn't like it, he loved
it; ate and drank it."
If someone was belligerent on a call, Lange would threaten to sit on
them. "He'd say, 'Well now,' with Larry's high voice. 'Well now,
what's going on here?' They'd look at this big guy with this high voice."
When Lange started with the fire department, "he was just a ball
At the fire department, Lange was "always joking around, always
smiling, you could always count on Larry to be smiling and keep things
going," Roth said.
He was dedicated to his work, always showing up off-duty when extra
personnel were needed.
"He was just one of those guys that was always doing the right
thing," Roth said. "A little bit gullible, like most really
good guys; they are gullible and that's what makes them lovable."
Roth said, "I think his legacy is truly to help people, and make
them happy. That was even his landscaping business. He loved people,
he loved doing things for people. If somebody asked him for help, holy
smoke, get out of his way."