Coney Island fire leaves 2 cops critical; Teen charged

N.J. Burkett reporting
April 8, 2014 8:24:08 PM PDT
Two NYPD housing officers are in critical condition after they were overcome by smoke while responding to reports of a suspicious fire at a high-rise building in Coney Island.

Thirty-six-year-old officer Rosa Rodriguez is in critical condition in the burn unit at Weill Cornell Medical Center, while 38-year-old officer Dennis Guerra was moved from Jacobi Medical Center to Montefiore Medical Center on Monday.

Doctors at Montefiore are going to give him blood transfusions, hoping to pump the carbon monoxide out of his blood.

Realtives and fellow officers are keeping vigil as the two fight for their lives. Late Tuesday afternoon, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton visited Guerra and promised changes in NYPD protocol. The officers took the elevator upstairs to respond to the call -- a decision that is raising questions about NYPD training.

"We have determined that the department has not ? does not have, and has not had ? any policies specific to this issue of going into buildings and utilization of elevators. It's ... a policy deficiency," Bratton said.

"Most of the major cities do not have a policy or training to address this issue. Something we are certainly ? based on this incident ? going to correct very quickly," he said.

Three firefighters and two people in the building at the time of the fire were treated for minor injuries. The two officers suffered smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Today is another sobering reminder of the dangers that face all of our first responders, certainly the men and women of the NYPD," de Blasio said. "Two very brave officers."

The fire Sunday at 2007 Surf Ave. started with the burning mattress on the 13th floor, and the two officers responded in less than a minute.

Police have charged 16-year-old Marcell Dockery with assault, arson and reckless endangerment. Dockery reportedly told detectives that he set the mattress on fire with a lighter because he was bored and wanted excitement, but he was then unable to put it out. He banged on a couple doors and ran out of the building with other residents. He told detectives he was trying to get people out.

CLICK HERE to see photos from the scene.

"It was really smoky, and you couldn't breathe," one resident said. "And it was coming into the house."

As residents fled, the officers took the elevator to help people get out. Police radio transmissions released Monday highlighted the choking conditions faced by the officers as they responded to the fire.

"Can't breathe, he's on the 14th floor, they are on the 14th floor, they can't breathe," one transmission said.

"As soon as the elevator door opened, they were overcome by the smoke that in the hallway," Bratton said. "They were on the floor of the hallway when responding firefighters got there. They never had a chance to come out."

NYPD detectives have also linked Dockery to an unsolved March robbery at the same apartment building. Police said he held up a 60-year-old woman, approaching her at the mailboxes and threatening her if she didn't give him money. He took $10 from the victim and fled, according to police. Dockery was arraigned on additional charges of robbery and grand larceny.

Sources say the teen has set at least one fire before. He has an arrest for arson in 2010 and other prior arrests as a juvenile.

At the fire scene, Elly Torres knows exactly what the officers faced. The fire started right outside her apartment door.

"We couldn't get out," she said. "When I got the bang on the door and I looked through the peep hole, I could see the flames right there on my peep hole. My brother is in a wheelchair, my 7-year-old grandson. I knew enough not to run for the elevator."

Guerra and Rodriguez each has four children. Rodriguez has been on the force for three years, and Guerra for seven.