Union Says Delay Cost Officer His Life

Police and Fire Fail to Communicate

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The coffin of NYPD officer Dennis Guerra is brought into the St. Rose of Lima Church in Far Rockaway on April 14. (Getty Images)

The fire union that has been critical of New York City's 911 emergency call system is blaming a communications breakdown for hampering the FDNY’s response to a Brooklyn arson fire that killed a police officer last month.

A union official said firefighters were unaware that two cops were trapped in the blaze until after they started setting up to fight the fire.

“We didn’t know that there were police officers on the scene and in a precarious situation on the fire floor until later stages of the opening operation,” Richard Alles of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association told WNYC. “We had no idea actually until the members were stretching hose.”

Officer Dennis Guerra, 38, and his partner Rosa Rodriguez, 36, became trapped by smoke on the 13th floor of a Coney Island public housing building on the afternoon of April 6. Guerra died three days later. Rodriguez was released from the hospital just last week.

Police accused 16-year-old Marcell Dockery of setting fire to a discarded mattress because he was bored. He is under indictment for murder.

Alles, a deputy chief and the UFOA’s legislative director, said it appears fellow police officers knew the two cops were in trouble but that the information was not shared with the first responding firefighters.

“It is no doubt that the other police officer could have survived had we been notified sooner and been able to get our members up on the fire floor to rescue the both of them,” Alles said.

He blamed the “operational mindset of the police department, perhaps operating on their own and not thinking about sharing information.”

Two weeks after the fire, the NYPD changed its protocols for police officers responding to fires in high-rise buildings. One change was widely reported: cops were told to take the stairs, not the elevator.

But one other important change drew less notice. If a police dispatcher becomes aware that there are uniformed officers threatened by fire, heat or smoke, the dispatcher should “verbally inform” the fire dispatcher so that the information can be relayed to fire units on the scene.

An NYPD spokesman had no further comment. The police officers’ union did not respond to a request for comment.

Fire Department spokesman Francis Gribbon offered a terse response to the claim by Alles that Guerra could have been saved.

“It’s pure speculation,” Gribbon said. He declined to elaborate.

Last week, the UFOA told WNYC that problems with the city’s 911 dispatch system, called Unified Call Taking, delayed the FDNY’s response to a convent fire on Staten Island last October, and sent eight fire trucks to a wrong address on the day a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx last December.

Those reports came as First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris put a halt to the city’s $2.1 billion overhaul of the 911 system while the de Blasio administration evaluates the contractors and operational issues.

The Coney Island fire presents different issues. Shorris told WNYC that Commissioner Bratton changed the protocols for high-rise fires after taking a hard look at what happened there.

“He did that in consultation with the Fire Department, which obviously has expertise in this,” Shorris said. “I think those are changes that will make sure that this kind of incident never happens again.”

Officer Guerra and his partner radioed for help shortly after they responded to the fire around 12:30 p.m. They were rescued about 13 minutes after firefighters arrived on the scene, according to an FDNY source and records.

The call for help went out over the police radio. Dozens of cops responded.

Alles said the battalion chief at the scene only found out about the trapped police officers when the scene became inundated with cops. He said that is when the chief realized this was not a typical fire.

“This is a high-rise building, so it’s a standpipe operation, so it takes longer to stretch hose,” he said. “In this case there was a known life hazard. Precious time was lost because additional resources would have been sent up to make the rescue.”


David L. Lewis


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Comments [5]


The fire union is not blaming the police but NYPD procedures
At this fire NYPD did not relay any information other then the initial report of a fire. Nypd did not relay two police officers trapped, the location, use of the elevator. Nypd had someone watching live on video the cameras in the elevator and could see the officers get trapped. Fdny dispatchers would have 100% no doubt adjusted the response from 3 engines and 2 ladders to 4 engines, 2 ladders , squad and rescue unit and started out ambulances to the scene prior to arrival with the proper information. If someone is stabbing you to death wouldn't you want FDNY to call NYPD and say so?

May. 31 2014 11:25 AM
M. Corr from NY

Here we go again, the fire union blaming the police. They would have responded faster, would have sent more units, would have could have, should have. They would have saved Christ if the cops had only noticed them sooner. What a bunch of self righteous bastards.

May. 29 2014 08:45 PM
Mickey Lunèe from Brooklyn

Mary Larkin, you're an idiot. His starting the fire was no accident! He purposely set a fire in an occupied apartment building and a police officer died as a result.

May. 29 2014 07:46 PM
mary larkin from new york

In light of the NYPD new guidelines being issued, it seems there is another side to this tragedy. Not just the starting of the fire but flaws in the response training of the two officers sadly involved. There can be no downplaying of the awful sadness of the death of a policeman and the injury of a policewoman but indicting a sixteen year old for murder is unjust. Many boys of that age do foolish things and this should be seen for what it is..a tragic accident. There was no intent to injure and compared to the many deaths caused by dangerous driving which are treated very lightly indeed, this potential prosecution of a minor seems overly harsh. Maybe Cardinal Dolan who presided at the funeral of Officer Guerra might involve himself in young Dockery's case and ask for some compassion. If not for the human instinct to avoid a third life being destroyed in this case, then at least for the teachings of Christ in whose name he presides over his diocese.

May. 29 2014 08:49 AM
Suzannah Troy from NYC

I'm also alleging that Rose Gill Hearn DOI guilty of turning away whistleblowers on CityTime and 911.

911 corruption has been covered up for years but it was simple math we will robbed.

The people involved in covering up shocking and therefore more powerful obviously then anyone can do simple math -- going over $1 billion clearly was a red light...

Reminder John Liu called for a criminal investigation May 31 2012 and the Manhattan DA Cy Vance said no!
Scott Stringer comes in to office and the first thing he does is remove john Liu 'a request for criminal investigation in January on the website.

May. 29 2014 08:36 AM

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