Cleveland firefighters mourn for NY firefighters shot, killed

6:22 PM, Dec 24, 2012   |    comments
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CLEVELAND- - Four firefighters were shot, and two killed as they responded to a western New York fire that authorities now say was a trap.

Cleveland firefighters say the Christmas Eve tragedy is a devastating loss to their brotherhood, but it's an unknown they must prepare for when a call comes in.

Four volunteer firefighters were shot just as their truck arrived to the scene of a house fire.

In a quiet community of vacation homes in Webster, New York, police say 62-year-old convicted felon William Spengler opened fire.

"It's a very difficult...it's a very difficult situation," said Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, his voice breaking.

Tomasz Kaczowka , a 9-1-1 dispatcher and Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a police officer, killed at the scene.

 
"You know these people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires. They don't expect to be shot and killed," said Pickering.

Two other firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, are in guarded condition at Strong Memorial Hospital after suffering severe injuries, according to doctors.

An off-duty Greece police officer who was driving near the scene was injured by shrapnel.

Investigators are still searching the seven homes destroyed in the blaze.

Police say the gunman set the fire as a trap. Spengler was convicted for the death of his grandmother in 1980, and served 18 years in jail.

While it seems unthinkable, Cleveland Firefighters say you never know what you'll face when duty calls.

"You always do size up. Size up is something that you look at your surroundings and you look at the structure or the area you are going into and you look around for unforeseen variables that could put you at risk," said Larry Gray, the public information officer for Cleveland Fire Department.

When the situation seems too dangerous, firefighters know to call in police support.

Gray says it's not common, but some situations, especially those involving drugs or domestic violence, they refer to police to handle the additional elements while they focus on the fire.

But in New York, it appears these men, didn't have a chance.

 
"We're all in this to save lives and to have brothers actually fall doing their jobs is very painful," said Gray.

Investigators say Spengler killed himself after a brief gunfire fight with police.

Police would not say what weapons the gunman used, but as a convicted felon, he could not legally own firearms. Webster police had not had any run-ins with him since he was paroled in 2006.

The gunmen's sister Cheryl Spengler, who lived with him, is unaccounted for as of Monday night.

WKYC-TV

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