Pine Haven firefighter tragically dies attempting to save a life during storm

Courtesy/Wyoming Local Assistance State Team Bruce Lang, 68, of Pine Haven, Wyoming died doing what he did best, taking care of everyone else, on Thursday, December 15, 2022 at Keyhole Reservoir. Funeral services will be held 10:30 a.m. Friday, December 23, 2022 at Keyhole Country Club, Pine Haven, Wyoming. Interment will be in Pine Haven Cemetery.

Gordon orders flags half-staff

PINE HAVEN – Governor Mark Gordon orders flags half-staff for Friday in honor of fallen Pine Haven firefighter who attempted to save a life of a resident who had fallen into the icy Keyhole Reservoir last week. Locals offer support and messages to avoid roads when possible.

After nearly three days missing in the iced over Keyhole Reservoir, Pine Haven Volunteer Firefighter Bruce Lang was recovered from the frigid waters and pronounced dead on December 18.

“Anytime a first responder goes down – you just sort of feel it throughout the whole first responder community,” Torrington Fire Department Volunteer Fire Chief Lance Petsch told the Telegram. “It’s a brotherhood and we are here for one another to call on as always.”

In a series of press releases, Crook County Sheriff Jeff Hodge wrote, “On 12/15/22 at approximately 9:10 p.m. the Crook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) received a 911 call that a male subject had fallen through the ice while driving his UTV on Keyhole Reservoir.”

Adding, “The 911 center was on the phone with the male subject who stated that he had made it out of the water and was laying on the ice.”

It was then CCSO dispatched the Pine Haven Volunteer Fire Department (PHVFD) and Pine Haven Emergency Services (PHEMS) to the scene.

“At approximately the same time, three local citizens arrived on scene and drove a UTV onto the ice,” Hodge continued. “Witnesses stated that they lost sight of the UTV as it went out across the reservoir.”

CCSO, Keyhole State Park, Pine Haven Fire and EMS, Moorcroft Fire and EMS and the Wyoming Game and Fish “managed to locate and remove the originating subject from the ice,” Hodge explained. “A second individual was also loathed and removed from the ice.”

“Information was obtained that the second individual was one of the three individuals on the second UTV and that they had driven into open water,” Hodge stated. “The other two male individuals in the UTV were not located.”

“Both males that were rescued were transported by ambulance to Campbell County Memorial Hospital to receive medical treatment,” Hodge further explained.

However, “due to 40-50 mile per hour gusting wind and snow, poor visibility and frigid temperatures, SAR (search and rescue) missions were suspended at approximately 11:00 p.m. until the morning of Dec. 16, 2022 due to safety.”

According to CCSO, SAR resumed at 7:30 a.m. last Friday, December 16.

“Crook County Sheriff’s Office ice rescue units entered and walked to the suspected area where the UTV with the remaining two male subjects were last observed heading,” Hodge continued. “There was a substantial area of open water in this area, SAR units were unable to locate any of the missing individuals in the area but were able to find evidence of a possible entry point the UTV entered the water.”

CCSO requested aid from Wyoming Homeland Security around 10:00 a.m. last Friday.
In a separate press release, Sheriff Hodge wrote, “On Dec. 16, 2022, at approximately 11:00 a.m. the efforts to rescue the two missing individuals from the night before was reclassified as a recovery mission.”

Hodge said recovery efforts continued through Sunday, December 18.

“At approximately 4:00 p.m., both of the missing individuals were recovered, and the mission is complete,” Hodge wrote.

Adding, “The Crook County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank everyone for their efforts and support. It was an extremely difficult mission. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and the Pine Haven community.”

On Wednesday, December 21, Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) U.S. Fire Administration department reported one of the lives lost in the SAR at Keyhole Reservoir was that of Pine Haven Volunteer Fire Department Bruce Lang, 68, a 30-year veteran volunteer firefighter from Gillette and Pine Haven.

Lang is fondly remembered by fellow firefighters on social media and with the sheriff’s department as someone who “spent his entire life helping other people.”

Pine Haven resident, Jason Otto, 48, who also responded to the original incident was announced as the second male who died during the original SAR mission last week.

According to Pine Haven, Lang served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to 1976 and moved to Pine Haven shortly after before the town became incorporated in 1986. He served as the first town council member of Pine Haven and worked as an EMT for more than 30 years.

“He (Lang) worked as a mechanic for 30 years at the Cordero Rojo Coal Mine, which is southeast of Gillette,” Pine Haven stated.

Various community members wrote on CCSO Facebook page, calling Lang a hero, community-oriented, good-natured and staple in the Pine Haven community.
“Anytime this sort of tragedy happens, you offer support and think about it, because it could have been us, and it makes you think about what you’re doing for your community,” Petsch explained.

“Prayers for his (Lang) family as well as the department,” Petsch said. “It’s unfortunately something we deal with in our line of work and service to our various communities.”

Petsch expressed the need to “check the local weather conditions and road conditions – and if you don’t have to go out, then don’t go.”

“During the winter storms we have here in Wyoming, some of the land has zero visibility and is very icy, so if you get stuck, that’s very bad news,” Petsch added. “If you do decide to go or if you must drive in bad weather or road conditions, make sure you pack plenty of safety items in your vehicles, such as blankets, extra clothing, supplies and light snacks along with water so you can be OK until emergency crews can safely arrive.”

Goshen County Fire Warden Bill Law said, “As only one of Wyoming’s many volunteer first responders, I can only offer my prayers and support for the family of Firefighter Bruce Lange and Crook County.”

On Thursday, December 22, Gordon’s Communications Director Michael Pearlman wrote, “Governor Mark Gordon has ordered both the U.S. and State of Wyoming Flag to be flown at half-staff statewide on Friday, December 23 in honor and memory of Bruce Lang, a volunteer firefighter and training officer with the Pine Haven Volunteer Fire Department.”

Adding, “Lang died Thursday when the utility task vehicle he was riding on plunged into open water while he was attempting to assist another individual who had fallen through ice on Keyhole Reservoir.”

Gordon wrote, “Jennie and I send our deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Lang.”

Adding, “We recognize that this loss impacts the entire community of Pine Haven.”

Pearlman noted a second emergency responders death earlier this week, “An Emergency Medical Technician from Carbon County was also killed while on duty.”

Pearlman stated the governor is expected to order flags lowered in honor of this second emergency responders death at a later date.

“These tragedies are a reminder of the risks that accompany the selfless commitment of first responders in our state, who are all deeply committed to serving their fellow citizens,” Gordon added.

Memorial services for Lang will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, December 23 in Pine Haven at the Pine Haven Country Club. His funeral will be held shortly after at the local Pine Haven Cemetery.