ROCHESTER -- Tomasz Kaczowka's father used to time how long it would take his volunteer firefighter son to get from his room to his car after hearing the sound of his pager, Kaczowka's brother recalled yesterday.
"He would cover the distance in a time Usain Bolt would be proud of," Darek Kaczowka said during the funeral for his 19-year-old brother, one of two West Webster firefighters slain during a Christmas Eve ambush in upstate New York. "There were times when I had to get out of the way or risk being run over." With hundreds of mourners filling St. Stanislaus Church, Tomasz Kaczowka was described by his brother and others as a selfless volunteer who was determined to help people and whom everyone liked.
"He had a personality which drew people to him like a magnet," Deacon Ray Mielcarek said.
The service was held a day after the funeral of fellow firefighter Michael Chiapperini, a 43-year-old father of three and a lieutenant in the Webster Police Department.
Autopsies showed that Chiapperini died of a single gunshot and Kaczowka was killed by two gunshots, which police said were fired by William Spengler as firefighters arrived at his burning home in a trap the 62-year-old ex-convict set in his neighborhood on the shore of Lake Ontario. Two other firefighters and an off-duty police officer were wounded before Spengler, who'd spent 17 years in prison for bludgeoning his 92-year-old grandmother with a hammer, fatally shot himself.
"We all know that sorrow and pain are so much a part of our earthly lives and nowhere is that more evident than here today at this moment," Mielcarek said at the service.
An estimated 5,000 first responders from across the state were in town for the weekend to attend calling hours for both men. At Chiapperini's funeral Sunday, Webster Fire District Chief James Deisenroth called him a "true hero" and mentor who "gave me the courage and confidence to handle anything." Parts of Kaczowka's funeral were said in Polish, including a message of condolence read by Mateusz Stasiek on behalf of the ambassador to Poland and consul general of the Republic of Poland in New York.
"You will stay forever young, forever a hero," Stasiek added, "and you will never be forgotten." Kaczowka, who also worked as a 911 dispatcher, had been a firefighter for about a year after participating in the department's Explorer program.