New York Daily News

April 10, 2014



Dennis HamillHamill: Hero first-responder died trying to save the life of Coney Island families

Yolanda Vargas and her daughter contemplated jumping from their 13-story window as Police Officer Dennis Guerra and partner Rosa Rodriguez rode up the elevator to their floor, where a mattress fire endangered the lives of several families. Guerra died Wednesday after being overcome by smoke.

See also:
Officer Dennis Guerra dies after days-long fight for life following Coney Island fire; teen arson suspect faces murder charge and
NYCHA firebug in death of cop has a record and should have been evicted earlier

Flames licked at the front door of Yolanda Vargas' apartment Sunday, prompting her and her daughter to contemplate taking a leap of faith from their 13th-floor window.

Yolanda Vargas wants to tell the family of Police Officer Dennis Guerra that she owes him her life.

“Police Officer Guerra died trying to save my life and the life of my daughter and her boyfriend,” said Vargas, 45, who lives on the 13th floor of 2007 Surf Ave. in Coney Island, where a mattress fire roared in the hall directly outside her steel door on Sunday.

“I want Police Officer Guerra’s family to know that if it were not for him, I would be dead right now,” she says. “I feel so bad for his family. He leaves behind four children. I have three kids, so I can imagine how awful it must be.”

Guerra, who was one of two cops to answer the first 911 calls that day, died Wednesday at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx from the smoke inhalation he suffered trying to protect the families of this public housing building.

Marcell Dockery, 16, has been charged with torching the mattress.

“Police Officer Guerra was a very brave man doing his job of saving lives of people like me that day,” Vargas said Wednesday. “I will be eternally thankful. I said to my husband (Tuesday) that we should go to his hospital room with flowers to try to thank him personally. Then this morning I heard he died and I cried. I feel so, so sad.”

Vargas walked through her tidy apartment as her dogs, Duchess and Pebbles, traipsed at her heels. She pointed to an area above her new steel door where the scorched outline of a crucifix stood out.