WEBSTER — A year after two firemen were killed in a sniper attack while responding to a smoky blaze on the south shore of Lake Ontario, families and firefighters finally have access to the more than $900,000 in charitable donations received in the aftermath of the attack.
Good news at a sad time.
“I think the grief heavily overwhelms the donations, especially now,” fire department spokesman Al Sienkiewicz said Monday. “We’re at the one-year anniversary. The donations are appreciated and they’re pretty nice, but it’s pretty somber around here right now.”
Firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were killed in the shooting rampage by William Spengler Jr. Two other firefighters survived. Theodore Scardino was shot in the shoulder, and Joseph Hofstetter was hit in the pelvis; both have returned to work.
Due to its tax-exempt status, the fire department was limited in its ability to distribute the donations directly to the victims and families. A new law will allow the West Webster Fire Department to act as a conduit to disperse the funds.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said passing the legislation in time for the one-year anniversary of the tragedy and in time for the holidays was “simply the right thing to do.”
“Now that this chapter has concluded, it is our duty to remember the courageous sacrifice of the West Webster firefighters and the everyday heroes just like them who volunteer to put themselves in danger for the protection of their friends and neighbors,” Schumer said.
West Webster Volunteer Firemen’s Association President Ken Smith said most of the money will go to the four families affected. It also will fund a new scholarship. “We tried to send it anywhere the donors asked,” Smith said.
Smith said the fire department also will receive some of the money, as well as people who lost homes in the fiery aftermath of the shootings. Seven homes burned to the ground and two others were destroyed, he said.
A separate scholarship was launched earlier this year by former Webster residents Christine and Jim Wheeler with the Monroe Community College Foundation to honor the memories of Chiapperini and Kaczowka, and more than $40,000 was raised. MCC students Matthew Speer and Cory Thayer are the first recipients of scholarship.
Both plan to pursue careers as first responders, following in the footsteps of Chiapperini and Kaczowka, who studied at the school.
West Webster firefighters along with family and about 500 friends dedicated a memorial on Sunday behind the suburban station northeast of downtown Rochester. It includes a metal sculpture of a firefighter and a stone tablet etched with the names of four fallen West Webster firefighters — Chiapperini and Kaczowka; David Clapp, who died in 1986; and William Bostian, who died in 2005.
Page 2 of 2 - A vigil marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage will be held this morning on the lakeside road where Spengler opened fire.
Authorities said Spengler set fire to his car and home before the ambush, and after a shootout with police Spengler killed himself. In a suicide note, he wrote of a plan to destroy his neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people.”