REUTERS - A gunman shot dead two volunteer firefighters and injured two others when he ambushed them at the scene of an early morning housefire in a suburb of Rochester, New York, authorities said on Monday.
The gunman, who also died, opened fire around 5:45 am as firefighters responded to reports of a house blaze in the town Webster, about 16 miles outside of downtown Rochester, according to law enforcement officials.
Another two firefighters were injured in the shooting and were rushed to Strong Memorial Hospital, where they remained in “guarded” condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman. A third victim, an off-duty police officer, was hit by stray gunfire as he was driving by the scene.
“It does appear that it was a trap that was set for... first responders,” Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said at a press conference carried by local television.
The individual believed to be the assailant was found dead of gunshot wounds at the scene, near one of four burning homes.
“We don’t know if it was self-inflicted or not,” Pickering said, adding that the sequence of the attack remains unclear.
“We don’t know where he was when the shots were fired,” Pickering said of the assailant.
The fire burned throughout the morning as police secured the area as a crime scene and evacuated area residents. A SWAT team in an armored personnel carrier responded to the scene and removed 33 residents, as police searched nearby homes. Four homes were destroyed by flames and four more sustained fire damage, he said.
The dead volunteer firefighters were identified as Lt. Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, according to Michelle Hook, according to a spokeswoman for New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Chiapperini was also a police lieutenant.
The injured firefighters were identified as Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino, and the off-duty police officer was identified as John Ritter.
Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by David Brunnstrom and M.D. Golan