By ERIC TICHY
Special to the OBSERVER
MAYVILLE - "It was absolutely shocking. I don't know how else to say it."
Julius Leone, Chautauqua County fire coordinator, had trouble finding words when describing events that left two Webster firefighters dead Monday after arriving to a car and house fire.
"We go out there to someone, people in need, and this sort of thing takes the wind out of your sails," Leone said. "For whatever reason, it's just horrendous. Thinking about them, their families and the department. The fire department is a brotherhood."
Firefighters from Chautauqua County will be traveling this Saturday to pay their respects to Michael Chiapperini, a veteran of the West Webster Fire Department and a police lieutenant, and Tomasz Kaczowka. Both were killed after arriving to the Christmas Eve blaze. Two other firefighters were wounded in the gunfire but are expected to survive.
Leone said the group will arrive at the Webster Schroder High School in Monroe County around noon for the funeral service.
"People will come from all over for this," the fire coordinator said. "In the time of need, people come together and pay their respects to show support. I think that's the unison of the fire services that's sometimes hard to explain."
Police say William Spengler, 62, shot the first responders shortly after torching his home, located in the suburb of Rochester. The suspect later killed himself.
The fire, which police say was set as a trap by Spengler, resulted in the second deadly shooting in the national spotlight this month; a gunman opened fire Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 students and six teachers.
Monday's shooting has brought an outpouring of support, from firefighters to politicians.
"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," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement.
Added Leone: "You think about these kinds of things. It's something that doesn't happen very often, especially in a rural place. I know in the city (firemen) are more aware of these types of things. But not here, you just don't think it will happen."
Meanwhile, Lt. Bruce Sheldon of the Jamestown Fire Department said while tragic, firemen will continue to respond to a variety of emergency situations.
"We will still come in and do our job every day," he said. "We watch everyone's back, but you never know what you're going to walk in on."
Asked what could be done to prepare firemen against senseless acts of violence, Leone said better communication and extra vigilance may be necessary while on duty. A partnership with area law enforcement agencies also helps in certain scenarios, he said.
"We sometimes get called to violent situations, like domestic disputes," Leone said. "We work very closely with our law enforcement agencies when there's a situation that dispatch believes may be dangerous. But this was much different. We need to be more vigilant."