Police officer caught in Coney Island fire dies
Police Officer Dennis Guerra, 38, one of two NYPD officers overcome by smoke at a fire on Sunday in a Coney Island housing project, died at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday morning at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.
He had been in critical condition, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and severe smoke inhalation.
Police Officer Guerra leaves behind his wife, Cathy, and four children, Kathleen, 20; Jonathan, 17; Alyssa, 14; and Zachary, 7.
Police Officer Rosa Rodriguez, also injured in the fire, remains in critical, although stable, condition at Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.
The fire was set by 16-year-old Marcell Dockery, a building resident who lived on the 12th floor at the building at 2007 Surf Ave. Dockery allegedly said he set a mattress on fire in a 13th-floor hallway because he was “bored.” Dockery had been charged, before Officer Guerra’s death, with multiple counts of arson, assault and reckless endangerment. He could now be looking at felony murder charges.
According to the Daily News, Dockery has a rap sheet that includes a previous arrest for starting a fire. He was also charged with robbery and grand larceny after a 60-year-old neighbor recognized him as the thief who threatened her on March 7 with a razor blade.
Police Commissioner William J. Bratton presided over a flag-lowering ceremony at police headquarters in lower Manhattan on Wednesday. He said in a statement, “The death of a police officer as a result of an intentional act not only affects an individual, it is indeed a direct assault upon society as a whole. The entire city grieves this terrible loss.”
Commissioner Bratton said that Guerra and Rodriguez had just finished transporting a prisoner to Brooklyn Central Booking and were near 2007 Surf Avenue when 911 calls for help came in. Arriving before other first responders, the officers took an elevator to the 13th floor, where they intended to warn and evacuate tenants. But as they emerged from the elevator the officers were overcome by the smoke quickly filling the hallway.
“In the pitch-black, fire personnel were able to rapidly locate both unconscious officers and enable their swift transport to area hospitals, where medical staff performed equally heroically,” Bratton said.
“It is a startling reminder that what can appear to be a routine assignment can very quickly become deadly. Police Officer Guerra gave his life trying to save others. And that is the ultimate selfless act,” he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio held a moment of silence Wednesday morning while attending Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention.
“I know it’s a national convention, but we, in New York City, this morning, are hurting, and I want to ask your indulgence for a moment,” de Blasio said.
“We’ve lost a good man this morning – a very brave police officer, Dennis Guerra, who did something that most of us wouldn’t understand how to do. He knew there was a fire in a public housing development on the 13th floor. He went selflessly towards the flame, selflessly towards those who are in danger, no matter what the risk to him.”
De Blasio said he has gotten to know the Guerra family over the last few days. “I just want everyone to know that on behalf of all 8.4 million New Yorkers, our hearts go out to the Guerra family. We will stand by them.”
The two officers were initially transported to Lutheran Medical Center and Coney Island Hospital. Rodriguez was then transferred to Weill Cornell in Manhattan and Guerra was airlifted to Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, and then transferred to Montefiore Hospital, also in the Bronx.
Fire officials say the blaze in the 18-story residential building was under control within an hour. Commissioner Bratton on Tuesday said the NYPD would be working with FDNY to address police procedures in responding to a fire.
Council Member Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, said on Wednesday, “It is yet another unfortunate reminder of the danger that our police officers and firefighters place themselves in each day on behalf of our city. Officer Guerra and his partner are true heroes who didn’t think twice about rushing into a burning building while everyone else was rushing out. My thoughts and prayers remain with his family during this very difficult time.”