Neighbors in Far Rockaway mourn loss of 'family' member

Police officers salute as Police Commissioner William J. Police officers salute as Police Commissioner William J. Bratton presides over a flag lowering ceremony in honor of fallen Police Officer Dennis Guerra at 1 Police Plaza on April 9, 2014, the day Guerra died from injuries sustained in a Coney Island fire on April 6. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith

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When a stray dog wandered around, Dennis Guerra adopted her, a neighbor in Far Rockaway recalled Wednesday.

When superstorm Sandy flooded another neighbor's basement, Guerra, the NYPD housing officer who died following a Brooklyn fire Sunday, chased strangers off the vacant property across the street.

A handful of neighbors who met and knew Guerra -- including a city firefighter -- spoke of the officer's selfless acts.

"He was not just an officer, he was a part of the family, part of the community, and that's beautiful," said Rabbi Dovied Van Der Velde, who lives a few houses from Guerra.

Guerra lived in a community recovering from the superstorm. Van Der Velde said water had seeped into Guerra's first floor.

"The damage we sustained in Sandy pales in comparison to this," said Joe Tarantini, a firefighter with Ladder 138 in Corona, Queens, whose in-laws' home across the street Guerra watched over after Sandy.

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He praised Guerra's actions in the Brooklyn fire Sunday.

"I know what this guy wanted to do. I know what his intent was. It was honorable and it was noble," said Tarantini, who stopped by Wednesday to check on his in-laws' home.

Guerra, 38, grew up in the two-story cream-colored stucco home he lived in with his family, neighbors said, and moved back in about four years ago. His mother, Miriam, still lives there.

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Dilcia Carrion, who knew Guerra since kindergarten, said she recalls running around as children in his backyard.

"A lot of memories in that backyard for sure growing up," the Queens resident said Wednesday.

The two were born 10 days apart. "As far as I can remember growing up, he was a practical joker," she said. "He loved to play jokes."

The family had just finished renovating their home months before Sandy struck in 2012, Van Der Velde said.

Guerra's sister lives down the block.

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"It was actually comforting to know that a police officer lived across the street," Tarantini said.NYPD Chief Philip Banks III joined Twitter Wednesday. His first tweet, at 10:51 a.m., was somber. It said: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of PO Dennis Guerra during this difficult time."

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