By Christina Santucci
A Queens police officer who died after he was critically injured responding to a Brooklyn blaze will be promoted posthumously to the rank of first-grade detective, Mayor Bill de Blasio told mourners at a somber service for Dennis Guerra in Rockaway Beach Monday.
Thousands of NYPD’s Finest and FDNY’s Bravest joined Guerra’s family and friends, city officials and volunteer emergency responders for the funeral mass at St. Rose of Lima pn Beach 84th Street. Following the service, the Far Rockaway resident and father of four was laid to rest at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village.
Guerra, 38, had raced with his partner, Police Officer Rosa Rodriguez, 36, to evacuate tenants from a Coney Island housing development the afternoon of April 6 after 911 calls came in about a fire. He suffered smoke inhalation and died Wednesday morning, the NYPD said.
Three days later, Guerra was remembered by loved ones as a handyman, jokester and grill master, sporting an apron that read “Grill master: The Man, The Myth, The Legend.”
“I believe he liked cooking just so he could get the family together,” said his brother-in-law, Curtis Mitchell.
Mitchell said his brother-in-law was a loving husband to his wife, Cathy, and father to his four children — Kathleen, 20; Jonathan, 17; Alyssa, 14; and Zachary, 7.
“It is going to be terribly difficult not having you in our lives and just down the block, but I know you will be in heaven smiling down on us,” Mitchell said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described Guerra’s legacy in the Police Department. Guerra’s father, Dennis, had been a detective in Queens and his mother, Miriam, had worked as a school safety officer.
“He probably never told his dad outright that he wanted to be a cop like him, but he never missed a chance to ask him everything about the adventures of being a New York City detective,” the police commissioner said.
Guerra first served as a school safety officer and then a city correction officer before joining the NYPD eight years ago, where he seemed to revel in his work, Bratton said.
Guerra would text his father, often attaching images of confiscated gun or drugs.
“He was saying, ‘Look, Dad, I’m out there. I’m getting it done. I’m starting the way you started. I’m carrying forth the next generation of what you started,’” Bratton said. “That was two men named Dennis – a father and a son, each one proud of the other.”
“It is so much more than a just job. It is a calling. It is the most rewarding job of all. Every day you can make a difference. Every day you can save a life.” the police commissioner said. “The thing that keeps us is that no one dies in vain. Dennis did not die in vain.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Guerra had worked to help others during Hurricane Sandy and then took refuge with his family in a loved one’s home after his own Far Rockaway house was damaged by the storm.
“Because the whole family was such a wonderful group of animal lovers, there were almost as many dogs as people there,” the mayor said.
Guerra was praised by de Blasio for his valor on the job — coming to the rescue at a car fire on the Belt Parkway by pulling a boy from the vehicle just before an overheated tire exploded in July and most recently responding to the Coney Island fire, which ended his life.
“Without a heartbeat of hesitation, he and Officer Rodriguez did what so many wouldn’t have had the courage to do,” the mayor said.
Guerra and Rodriguez, both from Housing Bureau Police Service Area 1, were overcome by smoke on the building’s 13th floor, after riding up on the elevator, police said. Firefighters found them unconscious on the hallway floor, and emergency personnel rushed both to the hospital, the NYPD said.
A resident of the building, 16-year-old Marcell Dockery, was initially charged with two counts of assault, arson and reckless endangerment in connection with the fire, police said, and the teen was also indicted on a felony murder charge Friday, the Brooklyn district attorney said.
“Let’s keep [Rodriguez] in our hearts and our prayers today as she fights for her life,” de Blasio said.
At the conclusion of the funeral, Guerra’s flag-draped coffin was carried out of the church while taps was played. An American flag was folded and presented to his widow.
“To many people, Dennis will be remembered as a New York City police officer who performed a selfless act, investigating a fire with the intent of saving lives,” Mitchell said. “He was recently called a hero, but to all of his family, Dennis was always a hero and long before. He will continue to live on in our hearts and memories as such.”
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at [email protected] by phone at 718-260-4589.