The brother of a Mirror columnist was one of the two firefighters wounded early Monday in Webster, N.Y., when a gunman ambushed firefighters at a house fire there, killing two. Seven homes were destroyed as firefighters waited for police to secure the scene.
Joseph Hofstetter, a full-time firefighter with the City of Rochester Fire Department, suffered a severe injury to his pelvis, said his sister Kelly Valeri, who recently moved from Tyrone to State College.
Despite the serious injuries, Valeri said her brother was lucky.
"The bullet missed his vital organs. He has a long road of recovery ahead of him," Valeri said. "They are not sure if he will regain full range of mobility. He has taken a few steps. That was our Christmas miracle."
Valeri said it was hard to put her feelings into words when she learned that her brother had been shot.
"Fear, concern, instant heartbreak. We just knew he had been shot. We didn't know the extent of his injuries [or] how many were shot. There was a lack of information," Valeri said.
After being wounded, Hofstetter made a 911 call to alert other first responders to stay away from the scene and prevent others from being killed or wounded.
"There were multiple fire trucks on the way to the scene. Joe's call caused them to reverse and turn around," Valeri said, adding that her brother is having a hard time accepting that people are calling him a hero.
Hofstetter and fellow firefighter Theodore Scardino, who also was wounded, were upgraded to satisfactory condition on Wednesday at Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital.
The hospital released a statement from Hofstetter and Scardino.
"We wish to thank the community - and the nation - for the heartwarming response to Monday's tragic incident. We deeply appreciate your compassion and support as we focus on recovering from our physical wounds. We are humbled and a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of well wishes for us and our families," the men said.
The firefighters also said their "thoughts and prayers" were with the families of colleagues Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, killed by William Spengler Jr., a convicted felon barred from having guns.
Valeri said she was not surprised by her brother's actions.
"To those who know him well, it doesn't come as a surprise. He is the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back; he is that type of person," Valeri said. "All he wants to do is be able to return to the job he loves."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.