CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. - On a snowy Saturday in Western New York, thousands of firefighters gathered in a suburban Rochester community, to honor two men who risked their lives on a regular basis to help save others.
They never expected to have their lives end in a senseless shooting. But, on Christmas Eve, when they thought they were responding to a huge neighborhood fire in Webster, that's what happened.
Many first responders feel that they're connected by a certain bond of service to other first responders. And they join together, especially when a tragedy occurs. This is what's happening this weekend in Webster.
"We may not say it, it's like a corny cliché hallmark card where we may not say we appreciate you and we love you until it's too late or you go out and buy a card. My message to them would be, we all felt this way all along. For all of them," said one mourner.
Fire departments from Western New York, and some from as far as California have made the emotional trip to the Rochester-area.
They're in Webster to pay respects to Lt. Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, two emergency responders who were taken from their friends and families on Monday.
From our area, groups of first responders from fire companies in Hamburg, Depew, Cheektowaga and other places gathered at the Erie County Fire Academy, in Cheektowaga Saturday morning to board buses and head to Webster.
More than 200 firefighters are on the trip to join with thousands more.
"From across the area, across the state, the country and as we've seen in other instances like this, firefighters from around the world will come together to pay their respects and this is how we take care of each other," said Tiger Schmittendorf, the deputy fire coordinator for the Erie County Department of Emergency Services.
Four to five thousand people are expected this weekend. The funeral for Chiapperini is Sunday and the service for Kaczowka is on Monday.
"That's just as important for us to be together as I'm sure it is for those folks there to be together as well," said Schmittendorf.
Both volunteer firefighters were shot and killed when 62-year-old William Spengler, a Webster resident, intentionally set a huge neighborhood fire to lure them in and kill them. According to police, Spengler used three guns, which included two high-powered weapons - a Bushmaster assault rifle and a Mossberg shotgun, to kill as many people as he could.
Spengler also injured three other emergency responders. Before the send off to Webster Saturday morning, firefighters said it's also important to think of the first responders who did survive and also acted heroically.
On Friday, federal authorities filed charges against a woman from Greece, N.Y., who's accused of supplying Spengler with the high-powered weapons he used to kill the firefighters.
24-year-old Dawn Nguyen is scheduled to face a judge on those charges on Jan. 8 in Monroe County.
Nguyen is charged with lying on a gun application to funnel the guns to Spengler, who was a convicted felon and shouldn't have had the weapons. Police say that the guns were bought in June 2010 in Monroe County.
Nguyen claims that the guns were for personal use and that they were stolen, however, court documents show that no theft report was ever filed by police.
Law enforcement officials say that text messages show that Nguyen bought the weapons for Spengler, who investigators say was there when Nguyen bought the guns.