Investigators say a gunman started shooting as crews arrived to put out the intense pre-dawn house fire in Webster, outside Rochester, shortly after 5:30 a.m. There was a shootout between police and the suspect, as the fire spread, destroying four homes and damaging four others.
The gunman, identified as 62-year-old William Spengler, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Authorities believe Spengler set fire to a car and house to lure firefighters to his house, but it was unclear what his motive was.
Two firefighters were declared dead at the scene, and two others were hospitalized. An off-duty police officer was also injured.
"New York's first responders are true heroes as they time and again selflessly rush toward danger in order to keep our families and communities safe," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement. "We as the community of New York mourn their loss as now two more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones."
Police say Spengler had a long criminal record and had served 17 years for manslaughter in the death of his grandmother in 1980. Police say Spengler lived with his sister in that home. She is unaccounted for on Monday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.