Officials in New York have said that four firefighters have been shot, two of them fatally, when they responded to a house fire in the western part of the state. Authorities in Webster told local media outlets that a suspect opened fire at firefighters close to 6 a.m. on Monday when they pulled up to the scene of a house fire east of Rochester, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
Gerald Pickering, the Webster Police Chief, told media members that the shooter is deceased. It is not known if the shooter’s wound was self-inflicted. Pickering told reporters that when the firefighters pulled into the 100 block of Lake Road, the gunman opened fire. One of the firefighters was able to flee while three others were “pinned down at the location.”
A SWAT team rescued the firefighter who was alive and engaged the shooter. Pickering spoke while holding back tears, saying that the fire seemed to be purposeful.
“It does appear that [the fire scene] was a trap that was set,” Pickering said.
The fire spread to three houses by the time firefighters were allowed to begin battling the fire around 10 a.m., after police secured the area. It is not known if anyone was injured in the fire. An off-duty officer from Greece was injured when he drove near the area, according to Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter. That officer was Jon Ritter, who blocked off the area to civilians and other firefighters responding to the fire.
The firefighters who lost their lives are Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a volunteer and the Webster Police Department’s public information officer, and Tomasz Kaczowka. Both firefighters died on scene.
“These people get up in the middle of the night to fight fires. They don’t expect to be shot and killed,” Pickering said.
“I’m not aware of anything like this happening in Webster, obviously not a firefighter being fired upon,” Webster Fire Marshal Rob Boutillier said.
The firefighters who suffered injuries are Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino.
Fire district commissioner Billy Gross said, “These firemen are part of our family. You go into a fire with these guys. To see them go down with something like this is totally unexpected. We are in shock.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement on Monday morning, saying, “State Police and our State Office of Emergency Management are working in conjunction with local law enforcement to respond to the scene of the horrific shooting that occurred early this morning in Webster as firefighters and police responded to a car fire. All of our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of those who were killed in this senseless act of violence. New York’s first responders are true heroes as they time and again selflessly rush toward danger in order to keep our families and communities safe. Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty. We as the community of New York mourn their loss as now two more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones. One behalf of my family and all New Yorkers, I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed today and pray for the recovery of the injured.”