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'Brother, hang tight,' wounded New York firefighter told as two colleagues lay dead

By Alan Duke, CNN
December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Cousin says system failed by letting killer out of prison
  • Wounded New York firefighters make 'small steps' toward recovery
  • Doctor: Wounded firefighters are "convalescing and doing as well as I would expect at this stage"
  • Funerals are Sunday and Monday for two firefighters killed by a sniper

(CNN) -- A firefighter shot by a sniper in upstate New York calmly described his wounds as "eventually mortal" unless he got medical help soon, although paramedics were kept away because the shooter could still be near Monday morning.

"Be advised I am struck in the lower leg, knee area, and the lower left back," volunteer firefighter Joseph Hofstetter told a Monroe County, New York, dispatcher as he used his firetruck for cover Monday morning.

"Brother, hang tight," the dispatcher told Hofstetter.

Theodore Scardino was injured during Monday\'s shooting.
Theodore Scardino was injured during Monday's shooting.
Joseph Hofstetter was injured during Monday\'s shooting.
Joseph Hofstetter was injured during Monday's shooting.

Two firefighters lay dead on the street near Hofstetter, not moving since they were shot, he said.

"I am in the danger zone right now," Hofstetter radioed. "I need EMS or I'm going to be joining them."

The recorded emergency radio traffic from the incident is archived at the website radioreference.com.

The shots came across the street from the burning house and car that were set on fire by the shooter, 62-year-old William Spengler, police said. He was aiming at a West Webster Fire Department truck that answered his call to 911, they said.

But ambulances were kept away because police didn't know if the shooter was still there, hidden behind a tree on a hill above.

While he waited and bled, Hofstetter made a request. "Is it possible to notify my next of kin and apprise of the situation? I have a hysterical mother."

CORRECTION
An earlier version of this report misidentified the firefighter who is quoted speaking to a dispatcher. The firefighter speaking in the recorded conversation is Joseph Hofstetter, fire department spokesman Kevin Crouch said.

With the help of two residents of the neighborhood, Hofstetter eventually left the scene in his Chevy Trailblazer, the vehicle he drove there in response to the initial fire call 35 minutes earlier.

Spengler, who was convicted of killing his grandmother decades ago, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours later.

Hofstetter and firefighter Theodore Scardino survived their gunshot wounds and were "convalescing and doing as well as I would expect at this stage," a doctor at University of Rochester Hospital said Wednesday.

"Mr. Scardino and Mr. Hofstetter are both receiving supportive care and are making small steps on their long road ahead," Dr. Nicole Stassen, a trauma surgeon said. "It is critical that they remain in an environment where they can focus on rest and recovery."

The men will start physical therapy Wednesday and their conditions should be upgraded to "satisfactory" later in the day, Stassen said.

Lt. Michael J. Chiapperini died Monday.
Lt. Michael J. Chiapperini died Monday.
Tomasz Kaczowka died, Monday.
Tomasz Kaczowka died, Monday.

The two firefighters killed -- Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka -- will be buried after separate funerals Sunday and Monday.

"Calling hours" -- a time for mourners to gather and remember them -- will be held at Webster Schroeder High School Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening, according to a school official.

Chiapperini's funeral will be held at the high school on Sunday, while Kaczowka's funeral is scheduled for Monday at the St. Stainslaus Kostka Church in Rochester.

Chiapperini, named "Firefighter of the Year" for his West Webster Fire Department just two weeks ago, was also lieutenant with his town's police department.

His 19-year-old son, Nick Chiapperini, was on the job in the Monroe Ambulance Company dispatch center when the call for help came in, according to West Webster Fire Department spokesman Al Sienkiewicz.

"Nick was in the dispatch center and heard the entire ordeal play out over the scanners," Sienkiewicz said. "It's something no one should have to hear."

The son is "doing as well as expected for a 19-year-old man who just lost his father," he said. "Nick was undoubtedly following in his father's footsteps and admired him very much."

Kaczowka, who was also a 911 dispatcher, had been with the West Webster Fire Department for just more than a year, Sienkiewicz said.

Spengler used a .223-caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle -- the same caliber and make used in the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, police said. He was also armed with a 38-caliber revolver and a 12-gauge shotgun, they said.

"He was equipped to go to war," Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said Tuesday.

Spengler left a typewritten note behind saying he hoped to burn down his neighborhood and kill as many people as possible, Pickering said.

"I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best -- killing people," it said.

A charred body, believed to be his sister's, was found in the burned house she shared with him, police said.

It will be a challenge for the medical examiner to determine if William Spengler's sister -- 67-year-old Cheryl Spengler -- was killed before the fire was set, because it was a "raging inferno," Pickering said.

Spengler was convicted in 1981 of first-degree manslaughter in the death of his grandmother and had been released on supervised parole, Pickering said.

Spengler was especially attentive to his mother, who passed away in October, a former neighbor, Roger Vercruysse said, visiting her every day in a nursing home until she died.

Contacted by CNN by e-mail, Spengler's cousin, Shirley Ashwood, responded in an e-mail that her family had distanced itself from him after he killed his grandmother. She had only seen him in the past year while visiting her aunt and briefly at the funeral.

He should have stayed in prison, she wrote.

"The system failed all of us again," she said, adding that her family grieved for the fallen firefighters -- one of whom her two daughters knew from school -- and Cheryl Spengler.

Seven houses were destroyed and several others damaged by the fire, which investigators believe spread from a car parked next to the home where Spengler lived, Pickering said.

CNN's Steve Brusk, Kristina Sgueglia and Lawrence Crook contributed to this report.

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