WEBSTER, N.Y. -- The first responders who answered the call for a
common car fire on Lake Road in Webster on Christmas Eve never expected
what lay in wait. But in the year since two of them were killed and two
others injured, they've been reviewing the incident and sharing their
findings to better prepare emergency personnel elsewhere.
gunman, who shot himself at the scene, was identified as 62-year-old
William Spengler Jr. Spengler apparently set fire to his home and a
vehicle to lure firefighters, whom he shot from a berm nearby.
STORY: 4 firefighters shot, 2 killed at Webster, N.Y., fire
STORY: N.Y. firefighters describe chaotic Christmas Eve scene
were Webster Police Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a volunteer firefighter
and the police department's public information officer, and Tomasz
Kaczowka, 19, who worked as a 911 dispatcher for Monroe County.
Chiapperini had been named "Firefighter of the Year" two weeks before
Firefighters Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino
were injured by Spengler's gunfire and an off-duty police officer who
was driving by at the time also was injured by flying shrapnel.
A body believed to be that of Spengler's sister, Cheryl Spengler, 67, was found in the rubble of the burned home.
Webster Police Department drafted an overview of its response for other
law enforcement agencies and has shared it at about a dozen
presentations across the state and in Maryland, Lt. Dennis Kohlmeier
Tactics, training and equipment
usually focus on three topics: tactics, training and equipment. In the
Webster case, one takeaway was the way Spengler ambushed the
firefighters, positioning himself away from the fire itself.
"A lot of times when you see these ambush assaults, they're done in
buildings, so a lot of training has gone into building-clearing and
entry," Kohlmeier said. "We're starting to see a difference with threats
in open areas - a person in a concealed position in a darkened
environment, and that makes the tactics you use a little different."
instance, Kohlmeier said, if perpetrators begin to work more often in
the dark, as Spengler did, night-vision goggles become more important
for responders. If the perpetrators are well-armed, police need to be as
well, and SWAT teams assume a greater role.
"There will be
firefighters out there who will read about Webster and incorporate it
into their training programs," said Glenn Corbett, a fire response
expert and associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal
Justice in New York City. "That's an important legacy of those
firefighters who were killed that day."
The National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health also typically conducts reviews of all
firefighter deaths and issues findings, but is not doing so in this case
after consultation with the local agencies, according to an institute
Another takeaway is the importance of safety
precautions for firefighters and emergency medical service providers,
who are not armed and equipped the same way as police.
Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter put together a training document for
Greece firefighters after the Webster attack. That document is now being
shared across the county by the Monroe County Fire Bureau, and also
includes information for emergency medical service providers.
trying to get them to start thinking differently - eying doors and
counting cars and all that kind of thing," he said. "What are
firefighters taught to do? To react. We're telling them to take a
(moment) and note your surroundings."
Kohlmeier described a gruesome game of cat-and-mouse, with criminals and police officers taking cues from attacks elsewhere.
drove home the importance of school safety procedures. In the Virginia
Tech shooting, the suspect barricaded the doors. First responders have
learned from both.
"This is sort of a whole new world for (first
responders)," Corbett said. "Columbine put an end to standing outside
and waiting and negotiating. Now, the thrust of law enforcement folks is
to get in there and take this person out as quickly as possible,
because they intend to kill themselves anyway."
Possible copycat crimes
attack may already have generated copycats. In the last year, there
have been several incidents nationally that bear a resemblance to the
In January, a Louisiana man killed a police
officer and wounded two others after torching a mobile home, also
killing a man inside it.
In May, Bardstown, Ky., Police Officer Jason Ellis was fatally shot
as he removed the debris from a Blue Grass Parkway exit ramp. Police say
an unidentified perpetrator targeted his victim by placing debris in
In October, firefighters were prevented from putting out
a house fire in Tonawanda, near Buffalo, after a 911 call from a woman
who said a man inside was threatening her with a gun. Neighbors reported
hearing gunshots from the house, and the man was found dead inside.
In November, an 88-year-old Oregon man killed a reserve police officer before being shot and killed himself.
you (only) look at it from the local level, you're never going to see
the big picture," Kohlmeier said. "We see the suspects in these matters
continue to evolve their tactics. We have to make sure our training is
relevant and current so we can address what we're confronted with."
lessons are harder to process when the victims are friends and
colleagues. Kohlmeier delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Michael
Chiapperini, his friend and colleague who died that day.
hard to sit down and look at the details of what happened to your
co-workers, your friends, the people you work with," he said. "But that
information has to be put out there for other agencies to learn from.
It's not an easy process, but it's necessary."