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Remembering West Webster: Irondequoit PD's response
by Jennifer Johnson
It's been almost a year since the Christmas Eve ambush on Lake Road, but this is a mostly untold story until now. Twelve members of the Irondequoit Police Department responded that morning in 2012.
Eleven of them were on-duty in the middle of a shift change including Sgt. Todd Fitzsimmons and Sgt. John Ballesty. Cpt. Rich Ryan responded from home.
With the blessing of Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, these Irondequoit officers told us about their role that day:
Sgt. Todd Fitzsimmons: "We were right in the middle of our shift change when we heard the Webster officer put out a call that there were shots fired."
Sgt. John Ballesty: "I grabbed a night vision and a thermal binocular and I jumped in my car and we started heading to the scene."
Sgt. Todd Fitzsimmons: "We had everybody meet at the Irondequoit outlet bridge... I looked at them and said, this is what we have been training for... We proceeded across the bridge to gunfire."
Sgt. John Ballesty: "I was going to take the south side of the road and he (Sgt. Fitzsimmons) was going to take the north side of the road along the beach."
Sgt. Todd Fitzsimmons: "At that time we really didn't know where the active shooter was so we took a fixed position to box this person in... hopefully they were going to come right to our fixed positions."
Cpt. Rich Ryan: "I was at home... My wife who is a police officer here (Irondequoit) called me. I got my stuff ready and responded to the west side of the bridge... they (Sgt. Fitzsimmons and Sgt. Ballesty) had already deployed by the time I got there... My role at that point was to set up some type of incident command for the Irondequoit portion of it."
Sgt. John Ballesty: "As we moved down the road we were in a marina and I kept thinking wow, we don't have much to hide behind here, the boats were all gone, they were all put away... I think one of the guys was behind a telephone pole, another one was behind a dumpster... We came across an abandoned house and the door was open on it. It was cold and I requested all the guys, let's get in here... We also had a good over watch point because it was a two story house."
Cpt. Rich Ryan: "At that point in time really I didn't know and I don't think anyone knew was there one shooter? Was there multiple shooters? Who was shot?"
Sgt. Todd Fitzsimmons: "We were receiving updates that there was possibly firemen that had been killed and firemen that had been injured. I remember feeling very frustrated that we couldn't get to them because we really didn't have the resources in the first part to get to these fallen firemen and I remember the frustration that I felt."
Sgt. John Ballesty: "When I heard it was him (Mike Chiapperini), you shake your head and wonder why. You pray for his family, you hope that the initial reports you are getting are wrong." (All three of these members of the Irondequoit Police Department had either trained with Mike Chiapperini or had worked with him during his job with the Webster Police Department)
13WHAM News to Cpt. Rich Ryan: "Where you still there when they (Sgt. Fitzsimmons and Sgt. Ballesty and the rest of the Irondequoit PD responders) finally came back across (the bridge)?)
Cpt. Rich Ryan: "Yup"
13WHAM News to Cpt. Rich Ryan: "How much of a relief was it to see them?
Cpt. Rich Ryan: "A lot."
Sgt. John Ballesty: "We went back to the police department, we did a de-briefing and we went home, to our families. Probably a lot more thankful than other years."
The Irondequoit Police Department has made changes since Christmas Eve 2012. The department guns are being upgraded and some other equipment has been upgraded or purchased. And each of the men interviewed for this story stressed how important the cooperation of all responding agencies was that day and every day since as they continue to work and train together.