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Reading firefighters react to New York tragedy

Published On: Dec 24 2012 10:30:51 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 25 2012 01:45:40 PM CST

Local firefighters react to New York incident

READING, Pa. -

A horrifying story out of upstate New York is sending shockwaves through Berks County.

Christmas Eve morning, around 5:30 a.m., police say ex-con, William Spengler, 62, purposely started a fire that consumed several homes.

Even though the tragedy happened in Webster, New York, a suburb of Rochester, firefighters in Reading was devastated by the news of their brethren assassinated in the line of duty.

"God rest their souls and hopefully this stuff stops," said Keith Eschleman, Reading firefighter.

The news was tough for Eschleman, but he still managed to put on a cheerful face.

Every year he dresses as Santa Claus, and gives out candy at Wawa, located at 11th and Rockland.

As Eschleman took pictures with residents in his red and white suit, bringing wide smiles to the faces of so many kids and adults, the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was still fresh in his mind. That coupled with the Christmas Eve killing of two volunteer firefighters was just overwhelming, he said.

"It's a shame. If we don't have a dangerous enough job to go in and fight the fire," said Eschleman.

Police say Spengler lured the volunteer firefighters to the area.

Authorities say when they arrived, Spengler opened fire, killing two firefighters and leaving another two firefighters in the hospital.

The police chief bravely fought back tears at a news conference.

"It's a very difficult situation," said Chief Gerald Pickering, Webster Police Dept.

"If you have a medical problem, go get help," said Eschleman. "There's no reason to pick on innocent people, it's just not fair to them or their families that are left behind."

Spengler was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

He had served more than 17 years in prison, police explained, for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980 at the house next to where the Christmas Eve attack happened.