Webster, N.Y.— On Thursday, the phones at the Hampton Inn in Webster were ringing off the hook. Firefighters from all over the U.S and their families were making reservations for this weekend to attend the funerals of Lt. Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka.
The two West Webster volunteer firefighters died on Christmas Eve after they were shot while responding to a fire.
“There are thousands of firefighters coming in to pay their respects,” said Hampton Inn Director of Sales Jamie Dengal-Story. “We have people coming from Canada and the all over the East Coast.”
But reservations weren’t the only calls the hotel received. People have also been calling to donate rooms to the visiting firefighters.
“The phones have been absolutely crazy here,” Dengal-Story explained. “Everyone has a story of a firefighter in their life and everyone wants to do something to help.”
The idea of donating rooms to the out-of-town firefighters attending the funeral was first suggested on the Facebook page “Prayers and Support for Webster Firefighters”.
Bill Benson of Missouri created the page hours after the shooting on Christmas Eve and since then the page has garnered over 19,000 “Likes”.
The page has served as a memorial site for the firefighters and place where people can post condolences and well wishes for the victims and their families. On the page, Benson has also features reports about the tragedy from several different media outlets.
Perhaps most importantly, the page has served as a resource for people to turn to if they want to know how they can help the victims’ families or the West Webster Fire Department.
On Wednesday, Benson started compiling lists of hotels that are offering discounted rates for visiting. Then, on the “Prayers and Support for Webster Firefighters” page, Benson challenged local businesses to sponsor hotel rooms so the firefighters could stay for free. The idea took off. Benson said he’s overwhelmed by people’s generosity.
“After these tragedies, we kind of feel helpless and we want to do something,” Benson said. “People want to do something and have some good come out of this tragedy.”
Several individuals, organizations and businesses have donated rooms at area hotels.
For example, Kafer Inc. of Pittsford donated ten rooms at the Holiday Inn in Webster.
“We decided to sponsor ten rooms for the visiting firefighters,” said Jason Kafer, president of Kafer Inc. “I think it's an awesome, awesome gesture for a company to make. It also supports the volunteers who are coming here to pay their respects to the fallen firefighters.”
Some fire departments, locally and nationally, have also donated rooms for their brother firefighters to stay in Webster.
“Even after all they’ve been through with Hurricane Sandy. We even got a donation from the firefighters in New York City offering rooms,” said Benson.
If they can’t afford hotel rooms, people have also been donating restaurant gift cards so firefighters can have a free meal in town.
Hampton Inn says they’ve also gotten several donations and volunteers for a reception they are planning to hold for those attending the calling hours and funerals. The reception will be at the Hampton Inn on Hard Road on Friday 4-6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-12 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.- 12 p.m. and Monday 2-4 p.m.