Reports that two firefighters were killed and two more were injured along with a police officer after a gunman shot them at the scene of a fire in upstate Webster came as particularly troubling news to local first responders this Christmas Eve.
“It’s especially bizarre because of this time of year,” said Southold police chief Martin Flatley. “There’s usually a lot of anger directed toward police officers because they make arrests and write tickets, but firefighters’ dealings with the public are usually to save lives, so that’s very unfortunate. ”
The shooting, which occurred after the fire was reported at 5:45 a.m., comes just 10 days after a gunman in Connecticut left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It marks the fourth mass shooting in the U.S. this month.
Police in Webster, which is more than 400 miles from here in Rochester, say they believe the fire was intentionally set by the shooter.
“Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Monday.
The news hit close to home for volunteer firefighters like Dennis Hamill an ex-chief in Riverhead, who said the shooting puts local volunteers on high alert.
“We in Riverhead very rarely ever have had any trouble with people threatening our lives or any kind of violence,” said Mr. Hammill, chairman of Riverhead’s Board of Fire Commissioners. “But you just have to be very, very aware.
“You always have to keep it in the back of your mind. We have no answers for Connecticut. We can’t see in people’s heads. You just have to be aware of your circumstances.”
Chief Flatley said it was once common for NYPD officers to be dispatched to fire scenes specifically to protect firefighters at the scene in the rougher neighborhoods of New York City, but that’s not something done on the North Fork.
“There used to be random violence against firefighters in bad neighborhoods [in NYC],” he said. “But we’ve never had anything like that happen out here.”
Jim Lessard, an ex-chief in Mattituck, said Monday’s shooting strengthens the argument for stricter gun laws in America.
“At this point after what happened in Connecticut, as the president has indicated, something needs to be done,” Mr. Lessard said Monday. “I don’t care what the NRA says about the constitution. Slavery used to be in the constitution.”
On Friday, National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre called for more guns in the wake of last week’s shooting, proposing to put an armed guard in all schools to protect students and staff.
“To hell with the NRA, let’s fix these laws and enforce them,” Mr. Lessard said.