4 firefighters shot, 2 killed at NY blaze

1:29 PM, Dec 24, 2012   |    comments
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A gunman ambushed firefighters responding to a house fire in the Rochester suburb of Webster, N.Y., early today, killing two firemen and injuring two others.

The shooter was later found dead of gunshot wounds near the scene, according to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering.

Police in New York state say a man who ambushed firefighters had served 17 years for manslaughter in the death of his grandmother.

Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering says 62-year-old William Spengler was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Police say he set fire to a car and house to lure firefighters to his house on the shore of Lake Ontario early Monday.

When firefighters arrived, he opened fire, probably with a rifle. Two firefighters died at the scene and two others were hospitalized. A fifth first responder was injured.

Pickering, choking up frequently as he spoke to reporters, said all four firefighters who responded to the call at 5:35 a.m. ET came under fire when they drove up.

The dead are Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a volunteer firefighter and the Webster Police Department's public information officer, and Tomasz Kaczowka.

"It is a very difficult situation," Pickering said, his voice quavering.

"People get up in the middle of the night to fight fires," he said. "They don't expect to be shot and killed."

The injured firefighters are Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino. Hofsetter suffered a severe injury to his pelvis. Scardino was shot twice, injuring his shoulder and lung.

An off-duty police officer who was driving by at the time also was injured by flying shrapnel.

Pickering said the case is still under investigation, but "does appear to be a trap that was set for first responders."

The fire started in one of the small, lakeside vacation homes and spread to two others and a car, officials said.

Four homes were eventually destroyed, as firefighters let the flames spread until the area was secured. At one point, a SWAT team escorted some residents to a bus that took them from the neighborhood.

Pickering said the unidentified shooter was found dead of a gunshot wound outside one of the houses.

He said it was not immediately clear whether the wounds were self-inflicted or the result of gunfire from police.

Pickering also said he could not determine yet whether the gunman set the fire and called in the 911 alarm.

At West Webster Fire Department, the flag outside was lowered to half-staff.

"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," said fire district commissioner Billy Gross.

Webster resident Michael Damico was among those neighbors who were evacuated.

"The whole strip's been evacuated," he said. "They're evacuating all of the houses and going through them.

Damico's son woke him up around 8 a.m. to tell him about the fire that was burning down the street.

"We looked out the window and we saw the SWAT team and everyone around," he said.

"Some people on this bus already watched their houses burn," Damico said. "They're not happy."

Webster, with a population of 5,000, is located northeast of Rochester.

By Victoria Freile and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

USA Today / Gannett

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