Hundreds of first responders — the men and women who rush to scenes of tragedy to save lives — saluted one of their own Thursday afternoon as a phalanx of white-gloved emergency medical technicians in dress blues attended a wake for Yadira Arroyo one week after her death.
They stood at attention, like a military corps, in front of Joseph A. Lucchese Funeral Home on Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx during a viewing Thursday to honor the 44-year-old FDNY EMT who was struck and killed by her stolen ambulance last week.
Police said a reputed gang member, Jose Gonzalez, 25, of Fordham Heights, carjacked the vehicle and ran Arroyo over with it after a scuffle in the Soundview section of the Bronx.
“Yadi was an amazing person,” said Alvin Suriel, division commander for the Bronx overseeing FDNY EMS operations, who called Arroyo an “absolute hero” for her efforts to foil a criminal the day she died and for saving lives over her 14-year career.
“She will be missed tremendously,” he said. “This is a tragic event, but as you can see even in her death she has managed to put us together. The amount of support we have gotten from all over the country has been overwhelming.”
Nancy Rivera, an EMS worker for Jersey City Medical Center, waited for an hour with several colleagues in a line that snaked around the block.
“We are one family coming together to give support to each other,” she said. “We are all devastated. We cannot get that poor girl out of our minds.”
“It’s amazing to see the city come together,” said Sonia Agron, a retired FDNY EMS worker. “Heaven’s gain is our loss.”
Agron said she offered condolences to the eldest of Arroyo’s five children.
“I was able to meet the family and thank them for their mother’s service.” Agron said. “I am proud that I was able to salute her casket.”
The wake takes place one week after Arroyo was killed during the attempted carjacking.
According to police, Gonzalez was riding on the back of Arroyo’s ambulance around 7 p.m. on March 16 and he jumped into the vehicle when Arroyo and her partner got out to investigate.
Arroyo tried to pull Gonzalez from the driver’s seat, but he put the ambulance in reverse, running her over before driving forward and slamming into three cars and a snowbank, police said.
Gonzalez, who has 31 arrests on his record, has been charged with murder, grand larceny and operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs. His next court date is April 5.
Visiting continues Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The funeral will be Saturday at 11 a.m. in St. Nicholas of Tolentine Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx.
Arroyo’s story touched both rank-and-file EMTs and ordinary New Yorkers. She is the eighth EMS worker to die in the line of duty.
On Thursday, a large photo of her adorned the New Morris Deli & Grocery, where she was well known and located just down the block from the funeral home.
“It’s a big loss,” said deli owner Sal Alghathi, 35, dressed in a black suit jacket and maroon tie in honor of his loyal customer. “She was a regular since 2008 . . . Always friendly with a smile on her face. Really a great person.”
Alghathi said Arroyo’s favorite lunch orders were Philly-cheese sandwiches or a grilled chicken wrap.
“She was real stand-up person with a great personality,” he said, adding that the whole neighborhood — if not the whole city — is upset.
Stacy Esparra, 33, of the Bronx, and a former FDNY paramedic who is now a nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Westchester, was outside the funeral home waiting for the evening viewing hours.
“It is important to show up,” she said. “We need the support. We put our lives on the line and risk our lives every day.”
Arroyo’s death has revived Esparra’s call to public service.
“Giving back is my passion. . . a serious passion for me,” she said, adding that she is mulling a return to the FDNY. “We need another person. We lost someone that made a difference.”
With Maria Alvarez