When firefighters and emergency personnel answer any call, there is always potential danger. Fortunately, in smaller towns and communities found in Sampson County, just going to a call is not usuallya life-threatening event.
But with the recent death of two firefighters in Webster, N.Y. who were lured to a fire and then killed by a gunman, the possibility does exist even though, locally, it still doesn’t play into an emergency responder’s thoughts as they answer a call, local firefigthers said.
The tragedy, however, has given them pause.
Clinton fire chief Adon Snyder said that coming from a large metropolitan area, he could understand that firefighters could imagine or even suspect to face such a situation, but in small towns and communities, as in Sampson, it does not play as much of a factor.
“Personally something like the Webster firefighters experienced is something I do think about. In the area from where I came, the situation is different and you did take your life in your hands as you went to the various calls. But with this community, I would not expect for it to happen,” cited Snyder.
The Clinton chief was saddened though by the reality of what occurred in New York.
“I feel we are all in a state of shock at the events that took place in upstate New York, especially that it occurred during the holiday season. Like I said, I do understand how it feels to be targeted when going into a call. Fortunately we are trained and discuss the possibilities, even in Clinton ,that this could happen. It would be something you would not expect here. We do have a good communications system and, hopefully, if any gunshots were known about the dispatcher would be able to notify us so we could take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others at the scene,” asserted Snyder. “However, when going to any scene you have to be aware because you never know what you will find and what people might do,” added the chief.
Currently the chief stated that the Clinton Fire Department was not planning any special remembrances to honor the fallen firefighters but was waiting for the holiday season to end and see what the National Fire Service plans to do.
“We are waiting for everyone to come back in from time off to decide if or what we might do to honor them,” said Snyder.
The two firefighters wounded by William Spengler Jr. ,the gunman who set his upstate New York house ablaze and killed two of their colleagues in an ambush, were improving on Wednesday and said they were thankful for the support they’ve received.
West Webster volunteer firefighters Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, who had been in guarded condition, were being upgraded to satisfactory condition on Wednesday at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital, which released a statement from them saying they were “humbled and a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of well wishes for us and our families.”
Firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, were killed by Spengler, a convicted felon barred from having guns and then set fire to several of the home in his area on Christmas Eve. Funerals are set for the next few days for the two fallen firemen.
Investigators found a rambling, two- to three-page typed letter laying out Spengler’s intention to destroy his neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people.”
Those same investigators also believe that Spengler killed his sister Cheryl Spengler but have not confirmed if the remains found in the burned home were hers.
Spengler, 62, had served time for beating his grandmother to death with a hammer and was not supposed to be in possession of guns of any type. He was well armed and determined to kill as many as possible as the firemen and emergency personnel appeared to answer the emergency call.
Keith Powell, Taylors Bridge fire chief and commander of the Sampson County Firemen’s Honor Guard, said the event in New York will change the face of first responders everywhere.
“The world is changing. The public has now become potentially our number one enemy. There are no words to explain how one feels about this tragedy. These firemen were set up as they got up out of their beds to answer a call as volunteers. As first responders regardless if it is a fireman or and EMS person we now have to be aware not only the situation but everything around us. Three to five years ago it would never have crossed our mind to think about being in danger of someone out to hurt us as we respond to a call. After this we all have to be on our guard to protect ourselves. We cannot help others if we are hurt ourselves,” responded Powell.
Powell has already told his firemen that they had to pause and think about the situation and not just run up with blinders on at any scene.
“I have expressed to my firemen that they need to take a moment and be aware of their surroundings, not only answering fire calls but automobile accidents. It could be a situation where someone is running and sees the first responder as just someone to hinder his escape. They have to take into consideration that it maybe someone that wants to hurt them. The face of first responders will forever be changed from this incident,” stressed Powell. “As chief, it is my job to ensure that all my firemen return safely to home and their families,” added the chief.
Newton Grove Fire Chief and Garner firemanJoey Eason said that times have changed in the world and he and his fireman have to become even more aware of each situation.
“As first responders, law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, we have to be more conscientious of our jobs. When we go to a situation we have to examine the scene for more evidence before we enter a structure or approach a vehicle or whatever. There is no way we can be proactive by providing bullet proof vest for all firefighters. We already wear between 70 and 80 pounds of equipment. We have to take a look and see what evidence is there before we move ahead,” cited Eason.
For an example, Eason shared that if he was first on the scene of a house fire he would do the required walk around and if evidence indicated that the fire could have been caused from the house being used as a Meth lab he would not allow his firemen in.
“I would rather let the structure burn to the ground than risk any of my men. You can rebuild a building but you cannot rebuild a life. We have to be more aware of the environment at any situation we encounter and be prepared for anything. I will not jeopardize any ones life if the situation is such that they are in more danger than we face normally at any emergency situation we face,” remarked Eason.
The Newton Grove chief concurred with the other chiefs in that no specifics are in place currently to remember the fallen firefighters but efforts will we forthcoming.
“Anytime, no matter what part of the country a firefighter loses their life, they are remembered in some way by departments around the country. I am certain we will be doing something to honor their sacrifice in the very near future,” asserted Eason.
Jerry Cashwell, assistant director of Sampson County Emergency Management Services, stated that measures were already in place to deal with hostile or violent situation for emergency services personnel and did not foresee any changes to those procedures.
“We currently have law enforcement officers handle any call that is deemed to be hostile or violent before anyone else enters the scene. Unfortunately for the firefighters in New York, they did not have any prior warning of what they were entering into as they arrived on the scene. Neither would we. It is even more vital now that we all are more vigilant on every call and be aware of what is going on to help prevent something like this occurring here,” stressed Cashwell.
Cashwell added that the chiefs will be meeting at the first of January and will possible address any plans for honoring those firefighters who lost their lives in the Christmas Eve shootings.