Thousands of firefighters, family, and friends gathered Monday at St. Stanislaus Church in Rochester to say goodbye and pay their respects to firefighter Tomasz Kaczowka.
He and fellow firefighter Mike Chiapperini were killed Christmas Eve in an ambush shooting while responding to a fire on Lake Road in Webster.
As the West Webster firetruck carrying fallen firefighter Tomasz Kaczowka made its way around the corner, headed for St. Stanislaus Church, it was met by a sea of salute.
Firefighters and law enforcement officers from around the country braved the cold to honor the 19-year-old who had given his all to his department and his community.
Inside, tender words from his brother Dariusz, who called Tomasz a selfless volunteer.
"Even though no words will ever describe my brother, I will always remember him as an optimistic, loving individual with a contagious smile who always put the needs of others before his own. Tomasz would be a designated driver, work overtime so his coworkers could spend time with their families, make long road trips to support Greg's varsity soccer team, or make a surprise visit to a homesick older brother who was adjusting to life at college. Even at the end, in the face of fear, Tomasz' only concern was to get his brothers out of the line of fire," said Darius Kaczowka.
The funeral mass was at St. Stanislaus because it was here that Tomasz was baptized. It was where he often helped as an altar server, where he attended the religious education program, and honored his Polish heritage. The Polish Ambassador in the U.S. asked that a letter of his be read at the mass.
"Tomazs was proud to be American and proud to be Polish, and now however in deep grief, America and Poland are so proud of him. Rest in peace our brother. You will stay forever young, forever a hero, and you will never be forgotten,” said Matesz Stasiek, Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York.
Not everyone was able to fit inside the church, so there was an overflow room set up at a nearby high school where they watched the funeral mass on a feed. Most shook their heads in disbelief as friends and family members got up to speak and remember Tomasz.
For most of these first responders, this was the second day of funerals. Sunday, they said goodbye to a fellow West Webster volunteer firefighter and Webster Police Lt. Mike Chiapperini.
"He will be deeply missed, but I know that while we are going about our daily lives whether it be at work or running calls, that Tomasz and Chip will be both watching over us and will have our back. Rest easy brothers, we'll take it from here," said Nick Volo, West Webster Fire Department.
When the mass was over, Tomasz' casket and a procession of family, friends and fellow firefighters made their way to the cemetery. Some were perhaps remembering the words from Bishop Emeritus Matthew Clark.
"Tomasz was taken from this life in a way that we would have never have chosen, that we can't understand, and that causes enormous grief. But our faith tells us that Tomasz is now fully alive with Christ, praying for those he leaves behind. And I hope that all of us can find consolation in that hope and that faith, and in doing so can remember that life is a gift every day," Clark said.