With the nation on edge regarding gun control and the senseless killings that have taken place in a Colorado movie theater and in an elementary school in Connecticut, four firefighters were shot early Monday while responding to a house fire.
The incident took place in Webster, N.Y. as four firefighters were shot when they arrived to put out the fire. Tragically, two were killed while the other two were injured. According to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, the shooter was eventually found dead at the scene due to a gunshot wound.
Choking up continuously as he talked with reporters, Pickering said that the four firefighters who responded to the call at 5:35 a.m. ET came under fire as they arrived on the scene. The two dead are Tomasz Kaczowka and 43-year-old Lt. Mike Chiapperini, a volunteer firefighter and the public information officer for the Webster Police Department.
His voice was quavering as Pickering said, “It is a very difficult situation. People get up in the middle of the night to fight fires. They don’t expect to be shot and killed.”
Pickering also said that, “Upon arrival all [the firefighters] drew fire, all four were shot on the scene. One was able to flee the scene. The other three were pinned down.” An off-duty policeman who was driving by at the time ended up being injured due to flying shrapnel.
Though Pickering said that the case is still under investigation, it “does appear to be a trap that was set for first responders.” Since the fires were continuing to rage, police have not been able to fully investigate the scene.
Police also have not yet been able to determine the “weapon or weapons” the gunman used. “I know many people are going to be asking if they were assault rifles,” Pickering said. This was in response to the week-long debate that went on about such weapons when one was used in the tragic shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut.
A police officer first on the scene to report the shooting said he “could see the muzzle blast coming at me. It’s going to be a rifle or a shotgun, high-powered,” according to a tape of the call. “He’s right across from the house on fire.”
Officials said that the fire originated in one of the small, lakeside vacation homes. From there, it spread to two other homes as well as to a car. Since firefighters were forced to let the flames spread as they waited for the area to become secured, four homes were eventually destroyed.
Pickering told reporters that the unidentified shooter was found dead as a result of a gunshot wound outside one of the homes. It was unknown if the wound was the result of police gunfire or self-inflicted. Also, he said that it was not determined yet if the shooter set the fire as well as called in the 911 alarm.
The flag was lowered to half-staff at West Fire Department and 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.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo commented that State Police and Office of Emergency Management were cooperating and working with the local authorities. “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.”
The president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Harold Schaitberger, issued a statement and called the calculated shooting of firefighters “both senseless and cruel.”
“The firefighters who responded today were performing a selfless, meaningful service to their community, unaware that a cold-hearted maniac was planning to ambush them and take their lives,” the statement said. “Coming on the heels of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and on Christmas Eve, this shooting is even harder to comprehend.”
Michael Damico was one of the residents in Webster that ended up being evacuated. He said, “The whole strip’s been evacuated. They’re evacuating all of the houses and going through them.” It was around 8 a.m. when Damico’s son woke him up to tell him about the fire burning down the street. He said, “We looked out the window and we saw the SWAT team and everyone around.” He continued by saying, “Some people on this bus already watched their houses burn. They’re not happy.”
Located northeast of Rochester, Webster has a population of 5,000. Known as a middle-class, lakeside suburb, it has become the scene of violence that is linked to house fires for the past two Decembers.
The Associated Press reported earlier how on December 7th of last year, authorities say that a 15-year-old boy doused the house he lived in with gasoline and set it on fire, killing not only his father but his 12 and 16-year-old brothers. His 13-year-old sister and his mother escaped with injuries; he is being as an adult.
4 Firefighters Shot, 2 Killed At Webster, NY Fire Scene
A gunman shot and killed at least two firefighters responding to a house fire at a Rochester suburb early Monday.
Two other firefighters were in guarded condition at Strong Memorial Hospital with gunshot wounds, according to a hospital spokeswoman, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported.