I turned the news off today. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that, the first time I’ve encouraged anyone to do the same. I’ve unplugged the television,
boycotted Twitter and am strongly considering ridding myself of Facebook too. For the first time since being in the news business, I see how the news consumes people. With the advent of social media, the news truly is everywhere, but it’s time to realize that it’s sometimes better to be oblivious than informed. This is one of those times.
I was in the newsroom Monday just before 7 a.m. when a national emergency services Facebook post popped up: “Active shooter at scene of house fire in Webster, NY near Rochester. At least 2 firefighters shot and being flown to ED. Scene still unsecure.” The story sucked me in. I was worried for friends in the West Webster Fire Department, many of whom I knew from my time as the Webster Post reporter. As an EMT candidate, I was worried about the first responders who shouldn’t have to face that kind of trauma at a structure fire. Shots fired aren’t supposed to happen at fires. Firefighters aren’t supposed to face that fate.
An hour later, and our sister station in Rochester is pumping out live shots and feeding back video from the scene in Webster. The fire itself was awful. I couldn’t imagine the scene. I couldn’t imagine being a first responder and knowing you had been shot at – and knowing you can’t help that fire. We didn’t know the worst yet. Soon after, our Executive Producer told me two firefighters had died, and the scene was a trap. It was an ambush on the very people there to help, not to hinder. The very life that comes to save and protect life and property had been taken.
But the story took its hardest toll around 11 a.m., when a single post showed on Twitter. All I saw was “Webster Police Lieutenant,” and knew it was Chip. Lt. Michael Chiapperini, a 20-plus year veteran of the Webster Police Department and West Webster Fire Department. A father of three, a life-long community servant, a public information officer and a friend to me during my time in Webster. A devastating loss for the community.
I was fresh out of college when I first met then-Sgt. Michael Chiapperini. He had invited me along for his swearing-in ceremony as a lieutenant with officer Mark Reed and now Sgt. Jason Thomas. A week or so before the ceremony, I met with him in the tables at the Starbucks at Webster Target. I had a few minutes to spare before he arrived, so I grabbed a few things in the store. With my bags by my side, I sat down to interview Sgt. Chiapperini, or Chip, as he told me he was most often called. He told me of his history in police and fire — longer than I had been alive — and how he was excited for the promotion to lieutenant. I remember him explaining how it would be difficult for him to be “stuck behind a desk” in the new role. He wanted to be out in the community, on the road, talking to people and being involved in a community that he loved. After my questions were through, he spent a good chunk of time learning about me, interviewing the interviewer. He was genuinely interested.
For the next year and a half, I spoke with him nearly daily. Clarification on the weekly police arrest reports or questions about small news tips I had received. As a hyper-local reporter, I interacted with him much more frequently than most reporters, assignment editors or producers would. With my chaotic and busy schedule, often out of the office, he and another Webster Police Officer (and West Webster Fire Department PIO) would often text or email me with news tips that he knew I wouldn’t get otherwise. In return, I made sure to be at each community event he requested. It was only fair for a PIO who went out of his way to help. After leaving Rochester media, I’ve stayed in contact with Lt. Chiapperini, emailing a quick hello or an email of condolences after a particularly violent story in the town last winter.
But Chiapperini died, alongside 20-year-old, Tomasz Kaczowka, who was also devoted to his community. Both arrived as firefighters looking to help, and both died at the hands of a man looking to take.
A friend in EMS suggested I’m having a hard time dealing with a line of duty death. “Sadly, you’ll face more,” he said, as my time in EMS continues. But I don’t think it’s the new first responder in me that’s the problem. It’s the news. Having spent the last two days in a newsroom, I couldn’t do it again today. I asked a coworker to fill in for me, so as to avoid the countless updates from media. Everyone is compelled by the unthinkable coming from the area – stories about the dead, stories about the shooter, about the residents who are returning home, about the community who is mourning two heroes.
So what do you do when the news becomes personal?