On Monday, the men who died were identified 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.
Chiapperini, known as “Chip,” was a past fire chief of the West Webster department and just two weeks ago was named firefighter of the year. He had responded with the department’s Pumper 124 to Suffolk County after Hurricane Sandy. A 2010 Webster Volunteer Fire Department banquet featured a picture of Chiapperini with his wife, Kim.
Tomasz Kaczowka had volunteered with the department for little more than a year. According to a Facebook profile, he spoke Polish, German and English and was a soccer fan. In a recent profile photo, he was grinning with a headset on, posing with a plush doll of the Grinch wearing a Santa hat.
The grief over their deaths was immediate and swept through the community's firehouses. Elizabeth Coffey, 18, a journalism student and a volunteer at the nearby Sea Breeze Fire Department across the bay from Webster, said residents and businesses flooded the firehouse with homemade cookies and delivery pizzas after hearing rumors that evacuees were headed there, but there was little else to do.
"It was really sad to see people’s reactions down at the firehouse when they released the names," Coffey said, adding, “When people realized who they were, it was really upsetting, because it was people so many people down there have known forever.”
At the West Webster Fire Station, whose firefighters had responded to the call, the holiday spirit had been shattered by grief. Firefighters at the station declined to speak with a reporter. A large-screen TV showed footage from a news conference earlier in the day. Electric Christmas candles flickered in the windows, Christmas wreaths hung in the windows of a cupola and a Christmas trees was visible through a window.
The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were facing recoveries that could take months, officials said Monday. Hofstetter, who was in stable condition, was a professional firefighter with the department in Rochester.
Scardino, who was in guarded condition, had been with the department one or two years.
"Joseph Hofstetter ur a hero for saving all those people by alerting dispatch about the danger," tweeted Dave Hofstetter, who identified himself as Joseph's brother and who said his brother was the firefighter who reported the shooting. "Ur the best man I know."
By midday, officials said seven houses were destroyed. Firefighters were still fighting the fires and police had not been able to enter the houses to check for additional victims. “There may be other deaths,” police chief Pickering said. “We’re hoping we don’t find any additional bodies.”
Pickering said Webster’s residents and people around the country had responded with an outpouring of support. “I’ve personally gotten calls from across the nation,” he said. “This is a tragedy felt by all of us.”
Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, Rochester’s former mayor and former police chief, said that he had not experienced a crime like this one in 29 years in law enforcement. “I’ve never seen anything like this, where firefighters were fired upon,” he said. “This tragedy is just unspeakable and unthinkable.”
He said he was in constant contact with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and expected he would have more to say about gun control after a period of mourning for the victims passed. “That time will come,” he said.
Pickering said the shooting underscored that the nation not only needs to deal with the issue of gun control, but mental health, noting the emphasis placed on de-institutionalizing the mentally ill.
“I think we’ve swung too far,” he said.
Pickering said that his officers and the firefighters were grieving. “This is a terrible loss to our community,” he said. “Unfortunately, tragedies like this pull people together stronger than ever.”
Asked about the firefighters who died, Pickering said that he did not know them all personally, but said he worked alongside them. “We work with these people every day,” he said, his voice cracking and his face quavering as he struggled to hold back tears. “They’re like our brothers.
“There guys are all heroes,” he said. “They’re all heroes.”
Hoeffel reported from Webster, N.Y., and Pearce from Los Angeles.