Firefighters killed in apparent ambush

A house burns after a man set fire and then shot and killed a responding police officer and a firefighter while injuring two other firefighters in Webster, New York. Photo from Reuters
A house burns after a man set fire and then shot and killed a responding police officer and a firefighter while injuring two other firefighters in Webster, New York. Photo from Reuters

Two firefighters have shot to death and two more were wounded after an apparent ambush at a house fire in the sleepy upstate New York town of Webster.

Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering told reporters: "It does appear to be a trap that was set for first responders."

Firefighters had responded to the report of a house and car fire at 5.35am on Monday (local time) on a narrow spit of land running out between the waters of Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay when the shooting began, police said.

Officials said a suspect was dead, but further details were not immediately available.

Officials identified the dead as Tomasz Kaczowka, a West Webster Fire Department firefighter and 911 dispatcher, and Mike Chiapperini, 43, a Webster Police Department lieutenant and a volunteer with the West Webster Fire Department.

The wounded are in "guarded" condition and facing recoveries that could take months, officials said.

Joseph Hofstetter of both the West Webster Fire Department and the Rochester Fire Department was shot in the pelvis and faced "a reasonably long road to recovery," an official at the University of Rochester Medical Center told reporters.

Theodore Scardino of the West Webster Fire Department was shot in the left shoulder and the left knee, officials said. His left shoulder blade was broken and the bullet traveled through his lung.

Both men were awake, alert and receiving "a lot of people, firefighters and others in their room," the hospital official told reporters.

After the shooting, firefighters still had to put out the flames once the suspect was found dead; four homes were destroyed and four damaged, officials said. Local media reported that residents had been evacuated to the other side of Irondequoit Bay.

An off-duty police officer from nearby Greece, N.Y., also was injured in the shooting.

Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that the officer, Jonathan Ritter, was driving behind a fire truck responding to the emergency call when he started taking fire.

One round hit his windshield and one hit his engine block, Baxter said. He said Ritter, who had minor injuries to his arm and chest, then backed up his vehicle to block the road to traffic.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement condemning "a senseless act of violence."

"Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty," Cuomo said, offering his condolences.

"We as the community of New York mourn their loss as now two more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones."

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