Emergency responders face huge risks on the job. For police officers and firefighters across Pennsylvania, the dangers are part of the job description. When these brave government workers suffer job injuries, we rightly hail them as heroes. When they are hurt or killed on duty by someone’s purposeful sabotage, the pain is felt deeply well beyond the community that suffered the loss.

That’s likely the nature of the pain being felt across the country in the wake of an inexplicable act of deliberate destruction and death on Christmas Eve day. The incident happened in a neighboring state, but could easily have happened in Pennsylvania.

According to the reports, firefighters were called to the scene of a car and house fire in suburban Rochester, New York. When they arrived, they were ambushed by a man with a gun. Two were shot and killed. Two others were wounded. In the end, the gunman also shot himself.

Authorities are at a loss at the time this is written to explain why the gunman took the actions he did. All they are able to share is that the 62-year-old man had had a history of violence that included his having served 17 years in prison for the bludgeoning death of his 92-year-old grandmother.

Funeral services for the two slain firefighters are scheduled for this weekend. The two wounded firefighters, meanwhile, are reportedly recovering well and have issued statements of gratitude for the outpouring of support they’ve received. They also called on their community to reach out with kindness to others, especially those who lost homes in the fire. Seven homes were destroyed.

Government workers of such character deserve the highest level support we can offer when they are hurt in the performance of their duty — perhaps well beyond the baseline workers’ compensation that may be available to them.

Source: USA Today, “4 firefighters shot, 2 killed at Webster, N.Y., fire,” Victoria Freile and Doug Stanglin, Dec. 24. 2012; CBS News, “Funerals set for two slain western New York firefighters, Dec. 26, 2012; Fox News, “2 NY firefighters shot when responding to blaze make progress, speak out; 2 others died,” Associated Press, Dec. 26, 2012