“It does appear that it was a trap that was set for first responders, but the cause or reasons we don’t have at this time,” said Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering as he described the scene where shots were fired at West Webster firefighters when they arrived at 5:35 a.m. to battle the blaze along Lake Road. Webster is about 10 miles east of Rochester.
The apparent gunman was found dead at the scene, but it’s unclear if he was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot or if it was from a weapon from police officers who were chasing him.
The victims were Mike Chiapperini, also a lieutenant and public information officer with the local police department, and Tomasz Kaczowka, Pickering said.
Chiapperini was described by Pickering as a lifelong firefighter who started with the department’s explorer program and had about 20 years of experience. Kaczowka was a younger firefighter and was also a 911 dispatcher, he said.
West Webster firefighters Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino were seriously injured and are at Strong Memorial Hospital with gunshot wounds, a hospital spokeswoman said. Scardino has injuries to his chest and lungs. Hofsetter was injured in the pelvis, the spokeswoman said at a media briefing.
An off-duty police officer from nearby Greece, N.Y. John Ritter was also injured by shrapnel during the shooting, Pickering said.
Pickering said that one of the firefighters who survived made his way across a bridge to get to safety. The other three did not make it across, Pickering said. Police arrived and rescued the other three firefighters, but two were fatally shot, Pickering said.
“These are volunteers who get up in the middle of the night to fight fires. They don’t expect to be shot and killed,” a tearful Pickering said at the press conference.
The morning scene was described as chaotic as police and firefighters dealt with an immense blaze as well as gunshots, local news station WHAM-TV reports.
“I’m not aware of anything like this happening in Webster, obviously not a firefighter being fired upon,” Webster Fire Marshal Rob Boutillier told the Democrat and Chronicle. Pickering described Webster as resort lakeside community that is quiet and usually peaceful.
There at least four houses that have been damaged by the fire along Lake Road, WHAM-TV reported. Firefighters had to leave the scene and stop battling the blazes while police secured the scene. They continue to battle the blaze.