Two Webster firefighters are dead and several houses on Lake Road burned after someone opened fire on firefighters who responded to an early morning blaze, officials said.
Two other firefighters are in guarded condition at Strong Memorial Hospital with gunshot wounds, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
An off-duty Greece police officer who was driving near the scene was injured by shrapnel.
The dead are Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a volunteer firefighter and the Webster Police Department’s public information officer, and Tomasz Kaczowka. Chiapperini led the fire department’s explorer program for high schoolers. Both men died at the scene. Kaczowka, in his early 20s, is also a 911 dispatcher.
“These people get up in the middle of the night to fight fires. They don’t expect to be shot and killed,” Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said at a news conference just before noon.
The shooter was found dead outside the home where the shootings occurred, killed by an apparent gunshot wound.
The fire broke out at 5:45 a.m. at 191 Lake Road on the Irondequoit Bay side of the street.
Pickering said shots were fired at West Webster firefighters when they arrived on the scene. He said it appeared the shooter had set a trap for first responders.
After the fire became a crime scene, firefighters were not able to resume fighting the blaze until roughly 11 a.m., after the shooter had been confirmed dead, Pickering said. In the meantime, the nearby houses became engulfed in flames.
Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter said off-duty officer Jon Ritter was on his way to work this morning, driving behind a fire truck that responding to the Lake Road fire. At least two rounds hit his truck, one going through the windshield, the other into his engine block.
Ritter, backed out of the area, jumped out of the truck and prevented any other motorists or firefighters from entering the “kill zone,” said Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter.
Ritter received minor injuries to his arm and left chest. Baxter said he was being evaluated at an area hospital.
“I’m not aware of anything like this happening in Webster, obviously not a firefighter being fired upon,” Webster Fire Marshal Rob Boutillier said.
One firefighter who was shot managed to get away from the scene and over the outlet bridge to his car.
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.
Authorities are on the scene evacuating residents. Residents are being evacuated from the Webster side of the bay to the Irondequoit side. They are being searched by New York state police and other authorities before being taken to a Regional Transit Service bus.
Outside the West Webster Fire Department on Gravel Road, fire district commissioners Pat Morris and Billy Gross described a somber scene inside. At 10:45, the flag outside was lowered to half-staff.
One of the firefighters shot, but not killed, was a Rochester firefighter who volunteers in Webster, the commissioners said. The department has about 125 volunteers.
“Each one of the firefighters is comforting each other,” Morris said. The Monroe County stress management team is working with the firefighters, the commissioners said, and businesses including Wegmans and Dunkin Donuts are donating food.
“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,” Gross said.
High schoolers from the fire department’s Explorer program are also joining the firefighters in grieving.
As trucks from Penfield, Brighton and Union Hill departments stood outside, the commissioners said help was coming from all sides.
“Because of the shock and stress inside, you can’t expect us to go and fight (another) fire,” Gross said.
Around noon, members of the community started stopping by the fire station to drop off small comforts for the firefighters.
One woman pulled up in a truck, paused for a few moments watching the fire house while crying.
Another man dropped off a case of Genesee beer.
Jim DiTomaso, a retired fire fighter from Florida, is in town for the holiday visiting his mother who lives on Ridge Road and heard the news.
“I knew I had to do something for them,” he said. “They’re our brothers.”
He dropped off a wreath honoring the fallen firefighters at the station.
Webster resident Emma Allen came by with her son to drop off flowers.
“It kind of hit home, they’re such a big part of the community,” said Allen, who had several friends who are fire fighters. “It’s just scary.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement Monday morning.
“New York’s first responders are true heroes as they time and again selflessly rush toward danger in order to keep our families and communities safe,” Cuomo said. (The full statement is attached to this story.)
Webster resident Michael Damico was among those neighbors who were evacuated.
“The whole strip’s been evacuated,” Damico 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.”
U.S. border patrol and New York state police helicopters circled the scene much of the morning.
There is no information whether the homes that are on fire were occupied.
Boutillier advised that residents who feel safe in their homes could stay, but advised them to stay away from windows and doors. A SWAT team is also on the scene escorting residents to RTS buses that are taking them out of the neighborhood.
Roads, including part of Culver Road and a section of Lake Road, including the outlet bridge, have been closed.