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Massena firefighters pay respects to victims of Webster shooting

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MASSENA - Massena Fire Department Chief Thomas C. Miller was stunned by the number of people who attended the funeral services for the two Webster firefighters killed in a Christmas Eve shooting there.

Mr. Miller and seven other Massena firefighters were among the estimated 5,000 first responders at the funeral services for Lt. Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka at Webster Schroeder High School Saturday.

“It was unbelievable the number of people that showed up,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Chiapperini, 43, and Mr. Kaczowka, 19, were killed in the early hours of Dec. 24, after 62-year-old William H. Spengler set fire to his house and car in west Webster, a suburb east of Rochester, according to officials. When first responders arrived at the scene, Mr. Spengler allegedly opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, fatally injuring Mr. Chiapperini and Mr. Kaczowka.

Also struck by gunfire were firefighters Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, who are listed in stable condition at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Mr. Miller was personally moved by the shooting, saying gunfire is something firefighters should never have to face.

“That’s not something you expect to happen at the scene (of a fire),” Mr. Miller said. “These are volunteers; that should never happen.”

Attending the services with Mr. Miller were firefighters Paul D. Brownell, George Brouse, Scott Billings, Patrick J. Carr, Patrick M. O’Brien, Matthew Chontosh and Brandon Sheets. Mr. Miller said no Massena firefighters knew the victims personally, but the close-knit community of first responders necessitated that they pay their respects.

“It was a need for us to pay tribute to our fallen firefighters,” he said.

St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Coordinator Joseph M. Gilbert believes the “brotherhood” of firefighters prompted Massena to pay tribute. “They really are a band of brothers. They know tomorrow it might be someone in their own department” this could happen to, Mr. Gilbert said.

Mr. Miller noted that firefighters have gone to “represent” the Massena Fire Department after other tragedies involving first responders, such as the memorial services for the firefighters killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In light of the shooting, Mr. Miller said his department would try to increase awareness when responding to calls.

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