Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Tragic Holiday

I've had this entry waiting to be posted for a while and finally decided to do it.

In the early morning hours of December 24, 2012 a fire alarm was called in for a house fire on Lake Rd. The first engine to respond was from the West Webster station of the Webster Fire Department which were then fired upon by an assailant injuring 2 firefighters, Ted Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter and killing 2 others Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka.

Lt. Michael "Chip" Chiapperini was 43 years old. He was a son, a husband, a father and hero. He had 3 children, the oldest is Nick age 19 who is also in the West Webster Fire Dept. Nick was working in the dept that morning as an ambulance dispatcher and got the call for his father and Tomasz. Two little girls also called Chiapperini daddy.

Lt. Chiapperini was a 25 year member of the WWFD and past Chief. Seven weeks prior to his murder he travelled to NYC to help with the clean up from hurricane Sandy and just two weeks before his death he was named Firefighter of the Year. Chiapperini was a mentor to young people who wanted to be firefighters and was in charge of the Explorer program in the department.  Remember that he was a volunteer in his service to the WWFD; his paying job was in the Webster Police Dept. where he was also a Lieutenant. Two public services lost a valuable member that day.

Tomasz Kaczowka was just 19 years old when he was murdered. On the morning of December 24, 2012 he was standing in for firefighters with families who were spending time together during the holiday.

Tomasz was a dedicated young man and mature beyond his years. He spent 3 years in the WWFD Explorer program under the tutelage of Lt. Chiapperini. It was there that he met his best friend Nick Chiapperini. When Tomasz turned 18 he joined the department as a full fledged firefighter. His paying job was as an overnight dispatcher for the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center in Rochester, NY. Tomasz was the youngest person on the job and was referred to as "every one's little brother".  He often brought in desserts made by his mother.  Tomasz was proud of his Polish heritage and his church. Several weeks earlier he and his father decorated the Church for the Christmas season. For many teens at that age it's all about them but not Tomasz. It was said that he was "unselfish with his time and gave freely of himself".

Above is Tomasz in his glory; talking to little ones about firefighting, telling them not to be afraid of a firefighter in a fire. Call to them or come to them if you can. They may sound like Darth Vader with the breathing apparatus but they will help you.

Tomasz Kaczowka and Lt. Michael Chiapperini

The following are pictures that I took as we stood on the side of the road to pay our respects as Lt. Chiapperini's funeral procession passed by on the way to the service.

Calling hours for both men and the funeral for Lt. Chiapperini were held in the local high school auditorium. A large space was needed for all the people to attend. On the day and evening of the calling hours over 5,000 people waited in the freezing cold to enter and honor these men. Thousands attended the funeral for Chiapperini, the auditorium was full as well as the cafeteria and classrooms where it was watched on CCTV. It was also live on local TV. I didn't see it because we were along the procession route.

Two ladder trucks hoisted the American flag.
On a side note I've been up several times in the ladder truck while on our yearly field trips to the fire house with my kindergartners. It was fun and the view was great but I would never want to be a firefighter, too scary.

Outside the school fire equipment could be seen lining both sides from all over the area.

Lt. Chiapperini's body is on the truck with an honor guard of fellow firefighters.

One of which was his son Nick. As the truck rolled by Nick took the time to raise his hand in acknowledgment of us standing in the bone numbing cold. That would make his father proud.

The Webster Fire Department is no stranger to us. My sister's husband has been a member since I've know him, over 20 years. This is him driving the truck from his firehouse. We've gone to countless parades, carnivals, turkey raffles and fund raisers for the department and  in our new home this is our fire department now.

Both of these senseless murders have affected our towns and city but for some reason the death of Tomasz Koczowka has hit me harder. Maybe because I have two boys myself not that much older. He was so young and had so little life experience. He'd not known the love of a wife or his own child. He was a kid himself. This picture is so heartbreaking to me. You may not be able to see what it is but parked inside his fire house behind all the flowers is his jeep that he loved and was so proud of. I know first hand how young men love their car. 

Tomasz's funeral was held the day after Chiapperini's on a smaller scale. It was held at his church St. Stanislaus,  in the city where there wasn't the room to park. His best friend Nick accompanied him on the truck as he did for his father the previous day. I watched on TV and cried like a baby.

On that fateful morning Tomasz awoke to a 6 AM  call for a house and car fire on Lake Rd. He jumped out of bed, into the pumper truck being driven by Lt. Chiapperini and away they went. Upon arrival they were fired upon as they exited the truck and killed almost immediately. Meanwhile firefighters Scardino and Hofstetter were wounded but miraculously were able to take cover and call for help. They were rescued by armored vehicle but it would be hours before anyone got close to their fallen comrades.

Go here if you want to know more about what happened that morning.

Go here if you want to know more about the killer. I'll not publish his name nor give him any publicity.

The surrounding towns have been very helpful in this tragedy, other fire companies  provided back up and have covered for the Webster Fire Department. Residents donated food, money and time. I don't think any  fire fighter or police officer that came into town for calling hours or funeral had to pay for their hotel room or meals. People paid for hotel rooms, donated gift cards to restaurants and paid for fire fighter's dinners when they were seen out and about in town.

One good thing that has come out of this horror is an organization called  Operation 12.24
This  description is from their facebook page:
Resulting from the tremendous outpouring of goodwill and acts of kindness after the tragic West Webster ambush this project seeks to encourage generosity, volunteerism and charitable initiatives. One of our primary missions is to assist and encourage attendance at funeral services in the wake of line of duty deaths in the uniformed services. We do this by organizing direct donations of hotel room stays and other comforts.

If you have a facebook account check out these two pages:

Operation 12.24   and   Prays and Support for Webster Firefighters

I'll end this post with a link to a tribute video to the West Webster Fire Dept.