Next to the sea of blue, another sea of blue gathered to say goodbye to one of their own.
Thousands of cops from around the city, and even from other states, descended on the Rockaway Peninsula Monday for the funeral of Police Officer Dennis Guerra, who died April 9 from injuries he sustained in a fire in Coney Island that was allegedly started by a bored teenager.
For over an hour, NYPD vehicles, many with their lights on and packed with officers in uniform and coming from as far away as Hamden, Conn., raced down Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards toward the Rockaways for the Far Rockaway cop’s funeral Mass at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on Beach 84th Street, just steps from the Atlantic Ocean.
Led by an escort that included dozens of cops on motorcycle, the hearse carrying Guerra’s body left Romanelli Funeral Home at 89-01 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park and headed south on Cross Bay Boulevard through Howard Beach and Broad Channel. It arrived at St. Rose of Lima around 11 a.m. for the funeral services, which lasted nearly two hours. After the funeral, the procession headed north on Cross Bay and Woodhaven boulevards to St. John’s Cemetery for Guerra’s burial. Along the way, traffic enforcement officers, spread out along the route to help direct traffic for the procession, saluted their fallen colleague as the hearse went by.
Guerra and his partner, Officer Rosa Rodriguez, a Howard Beach resident, were overcome with smoke when they exited the elevator on the 13th floor of a high-rise apartment building at 2007 Surf Ave. in Coney Island while responding to the fire.
Marcell Dockery, 16, of Coney Island, is accused of starting the fire that killed Guerra and faces second-degree murder charges. He told cops that he set the blaze, by lighting a mattress on fire, because he was bored.
Rodriguez was also injured in the fire, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. She has been listed in critical but stable condition at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. Her daughters attended Guerra’s wake last weekend and members of her family attended Guerra’s funeral.
The son of an NYPD detective, Guerra grew up in the Rockaways. He was a school safety officer and then a correction officer before getting his NYPD badge eight years ago.
Mayor de Blasio, joined by his wife, Chirlane McCray, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton spoke at the service, which was officiated by the same priest who had married Guerra and his now-widow, Cathy.
“No other profession will give you as much, but sometimes, take as much,” Bratton said during the service. He later posthumously promoted Guerra to detective first-grade, the rank his father held.
De Blasio recounted Guerra’s career and his other heroic and selfless acts.
After Hurricane Sandy, which badly damaged Guerra’s Rockaway home, the officer, then working in Red Hook, Brooklyn, carried supplies up to the top floors of the housing projects there, where residents were living with no power or heat for several weeks.
And last July, Guerra saved a boy from a burning car on the Belt Parkway.
“Duty came first,” de Blasio said in his remarks. “[Guerra and Rodriguez]’s first thought was. ‘It’s up to us to save people’s lives,’ and so yes, we will always remember with sorrow how Dennis left us that day. But we will also remember with pride the example of valor, dedication to duty that he set.”
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) also released a statement honoring Guerra, who was a constituent of his.
“A true hero at heart and in deed, Officer Guerra exhibited the true meaning of selflessness,” he said. “Giving his all to family and dedicating his life to protect and serve New Yorkers was the greatest gift he had to give.”
Guerra is the first officer to die in the line of duty since. Officer Peter Figoski was shot and killed in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn in December 2011. He is survived by his wife and four children, Kathleen, 20, Jonathan, 17, Alyssa, 14 and Zachary, 7.
The day after Guerra’s death, two other cops were injured in a fire in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Both are expected to be OK.
The incidents have led to changes in how the NYPD responds to fires, specifically in high-rises.
New rules sent out to all commands from Bratton tell officers they shouldn’t all use the same elevator and stairwell in case of fire.
The new guidelines also say cops should walk up to a reported fire whenever possible, but if elevators are used, they should take them only to at least two floors below the fire.