Until his life ended, former NYPD officer and 9/11 victims advocate Luis Alvarez reminded a nation vowing to “never forget” that first responders still battle diseases linked to the terrorist attacks, relatives and colleagues said Tuesday at his wake inside an Oceanside funeral home.
Alvarez would have been uncomfortable with all the attention his death Saturday received, said his older brother, Phillip Alvarez, a retired Suffolk police detective and among hundreds of mourners at Towers Funeral Home for the service.
Luis Alvarez, though reticent, assumed the spotlight to push Congress into action to aid the cops, firefighters and others who, like him, developed life-threatening diseases from searching the toxic rubble of the World Trade Center for survivors and those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“His message was really simple,” Phillip Alvarez said of his younger brother. "Take care of each other and take care of yourselves.”
A former NYPD bomb squad detective, Luis Alvarez, 53, died Saturday in a Rockville Centre hospice from complications of colorectal cancer first diagnosed in 2016.
He was a Cuban immigrant who loved to cook for his wife and three sons, friends and family said. Nephew Michael Alvarez described his uncle as a “regular guy” who slipped him his first sip of beer and liked to tell off-color jokes.
He was also someone not afraid to speak up to right a wrong, his son David Alvarez said, and felt honored to do the often-grueling work at Ground Zero.
"My father would want to be remembered as a man who tried his best to raise his voice the right way," David Alvarez said. "He wanted to be remembered — like so many other first responders — as someone who rushed in without hesitation and would do it again in a heartbeat."
Luis Alvarez, who spent six years in the Marine Corps before joining the NYPD, appeared with former “Daily Show” host and activist Jon Stewart on June 11 in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee. He joined Stewart in pleas with lawmakers to replenish the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which provides benefits to first responders and volunteers struggling with health problems linked to toxic chemicals at Ground Zero. Thousands of first responders and volunteers have developed diseases linked to the toxins at the site or are at risk of becoming sick.
“I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11 like me are valued less than anyone else because when they get sick, they die,” a gaunt Alvarez, his voice weak, told lawmakers during his testimony.
The $7 billion September 11th Victim Compensation Fund has been drained, with benefit payments slashed by up to 70 percent. Legislation pending before Congress would ensure the fund can pay benefits for 70 years.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed concerns about the cost of the fund, and Stewart and 9/11 victim advocates accused Congress of dithering as first responders suffered. A bill to replenish the fund passed the full committee unanimously and McConnell — after blistering criticism from Stewart — said he will allow an August Senate vote on the bill.
“We hope and pray that the Congress and the Senate heard his message and that he will have died a happy man for his efforts for the World Trade Center fund, the victims compensation fund,” Phillip Alvarez said. “I can guarantee you if we need to go down there again, I will go down there again … I will keep going until his message and his bill is passed.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived early to the funeral home, before hundreds stood in line to get in. He offered the Alvarez family condolences but did not speak to reporters. De Blasio said Monday he would award Alvarez a posthumous key to the city “as a symbol or our profound respect and gratitude.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone attended the wake and described Alvarez as an inspiring figure.
“He didn’t stop fighting until the very end,” Bellone said. “He is a vivid example of courage and honor.”
Alvarez’s funeral is expected to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria, Queens.
His family has asked that donations be made in his name to charities such as Manhattan's St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, KiDS NEED MoRE in Amityville, and the Nesconset-based FealGood Foundation, which provides assistance to injured first responders, family attorney Matt McCauley said.
Phillip Alvarez expressed appreciation to those in the news media who amplified his brother's efforts.
“Thank you very much for giving him the runway and the avenue to get his message out for him and his fellow first responders,” he said.