Tag Archives: firefighters

Ending 2012 with firefighters on my mind

Mike Chiapperini

Lt. Michael Chiapperini

I’ve spent the last two days watching funerals on TV. West Webster Firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were laid to rest and their services were aired live on one of our local news channels. (You can read more about the events that led to their deaths in this post.)

The services were so different. Chiapperini was married with children, and his funeral service focused on his family and on his 25 years with the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department and his 19 years with the Webster Police Department. The first hour was spent with first responders filing past his casket.

Tomasz Kaczowka

Tomasz Kaczowka

Kaczowka was just 19 years old, only a year out of high school; his funeral service was much more religious in nature, focusing on his committment to his Polish- American heritage and his strong ties to his church. The first hour of his service was a traditional Catholic mass.

In both cases, thousands and thousands of first responders from across the U.S. and Canada stood in formation outside the church or school where the services where held. Appropriate, as the two died together in the line of duty on the morning of Christmas Eve when a madman started a fire to lure first responders to the scene, and then gunned them down.

They died together, mentor and mentee.

Different funeral services, yes, but, like their lives, together they seemed to perfectly bookend the life of a first responder. Chapparini was the more experienced public servant, leaving behind a long legacy of public service and in the dozens of young people he’s mentored over his lifetime – one of them being Kaczowka. Kaczowka was in the spring of that call to a lifetime of service. That lifetime, though shorter in years, leaves a lasting impact that will be felt for decades through lives of other firefighters and coworkers who knew him.

On this last day of 2012, my original plan was to look back on the year and recap the positive changes I’ve made in my life and the obvious progress towards regaining my sense of self.

In other words: me, me, me, me.

But the events of the last week have left me pondering less about myself and more about the nature of service and community. Continue reading

I muse about the tragedy in Webster, NY

west webster patch

Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, tragedy visited the small town of Webster, NY, when a madman set fire to a house and a car, luring first responders to the scene and then gunning them down in cold blood. What ensued were hours of confusion and chaos as SWAT teams descended on the small spit of land, a two lane road bordered on one side by Irondequoit Bay and the other by Lake Ontario, chasing the gunman, evacuating neighbors, and retrieving the bodies of shooting victims. Firefighters, unable to enter the area to fight the blaze, could only watch from a distance as seven houses burned to the ground and their commrades lay injured or dead.

West Webster volunteer firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were shot to death and John Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino were seriously injured by gunfire as they arrived on the scene. Jon Ritter, a full time officer with the Greece, NY police, was on his way to work; seeing the fire trucks he followed to offer assistance and was injured by shrapnel when gunfire hit his car.

This happened almost in my backyard, figuratively speaking. Webster, NY is a few miles from my house on the east side of Rochester, NY. My daughter went to Christian high school in Webster for three years; I often walk the beaches to take pictures where this event happened. Webster is part of the larger community of the city of Rochester. It’s a small town just outside of the city, but we’re all neighbors.

When things like this happen in other places, the national news media always reports that “it’s a small town where almost everyone knows someone who was affected.” But you never really understand what that means until it happens in your town.

Yes, I know someone affected. Several someones, in fact. (Click here to continue reading on my blog at Patheos.com)