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MCC Daily Tribune Archive

Scholarship Honors Lives of Fallen Firefighters

The Wheeler Family of Naples, Florida established a memorial scholarship to honor fallen West Webster Fire Department volunteers Lt. Michael “Chip” Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka. The scholarship, established with the Monroe Community College Foundation, supports students enrolled in MCC’s Fire Protection Technology program, the next generation of firefighters. 

Chiapperini was an MCC alumnus (class of 1989) and Kaczowka was an MCC student when they responded to a house fire and lost their lives on December 24, 2012. The Lt. Michael J. Chiapperini and Tomasz M. Kaczowka Memorial Scholarship, established with a $10,000 pledge, honors their service and sacrifice by providing support over at least the next five years to students who dream of pursuing firefighting careers.

Jim and Christine Wheeler, formerly of Webster, New York, first heard the news of the fallen firefighters on national television the morning of December 24, 2012. “Everyone in Webster has some connection to the fire department; the police and fire departments are such a huge piece of the Webster community,” said Jim Wheeler, who was Chiapperini’s classmate at Webster Thomas High School and also graduated from MCC’s business administration/economics program in 1991. The couple received calls and texts from friends back home asking the Wheelers to join them in praying for the firefighters and the department. 

“When thinking about a way to honor Chip and Tomasz, and the sacrifice they made, our thoughts always brought us back to a scholarship,” Christine Wheeler said. “We’re both educators, and we believe that education is forever.  Education leaves a legacy. It is our hope that these men and their sacrifice will also be remembered forever. To know Chip and Tomasz trained at MCC reinforced that establishing a scholarship was the right thing to do,” she said.

“This tragedy has changed the face of firefighting in general, and more so in Monroe County,” said Jim Wheeler. “People are now thinking about the sacrifice of first responders, and the importance of what they do quietly every day. This scholarship creates an opportunity for those looking to pursue an education in this field. At the same time the named scholarship, and what it represents, challenges people to remember lives lost and the importance of what the first responder’s role means.  There may be someone out there that this is their dream. The scholarship makes it practical for them to pursue their degree without acquiring debt, focusing instead on their skills and knowledge to better serve our community.”

“Through all of this, what is really important is that when we look back years from now, Chip and Tomasz’s sacrifice, their dedication, and their selflessness will still be recognized through this scholarship,” said Christine Wheeler.

Two $1,000 scholarships will be awarded annually to full- or part-time students majoring in fire protection technology at MCC. Residents of Webster are especially encouraged to apply. The first scholarships will be awarded in the fall 2013 semester. The Wheeler family hopes that this scholarship will, ultimately, become an endowed scholarship to honor Chiapperini and Kaczowka in perpetuity. People interested in contributing to the scholarship fund can contact the MCC Foundation at x1500 or give online at "".

Mark Pastorella
MCC Foundation