Luis G. Alvarez, a former New York City detective who pleaded with Congress this month to extend health benefits to police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, died on Saturday in a hospice in Rockville Centre, N.Y. He was 53.
His family announced his death in a post on Facebook. The cause was complications of colorectal cancer; Mr. Alvarez received a diagnosis in 2016. The disease was linked to the three months he had spent at the site of the toppled World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan, searching for survivors and for remains of his fellow officers on nearby rooftops and in the toxic rubble at ground zero.
Mr. Alvarez, the father of three sons, including two teenagers, delivered a raspy appeal before a House Judiciary subcommittee in Washington on June 11 to replenish the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
He appeared alongside Jon Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” who delivered a passionate call for justice on behalf of the victims.
The refunding bill passed the full committee unanimously, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, agreed to allow the legislation to go to a floor vote in August.
“You need to be covered,” Mr. Alvarez said in an interview on Fox News a week after his testimony. “I’m lucky to have the health care that I’ve got, but there are guys out there who don’t have it. In terms of going through the stress of fighting cancer, they’re also fighting the financial stress of the health care.”
He added: “I’m no one special, and I did what all the other guys did. Now we are paying the price for it.” He continued:
“I got sick 16 years after the fact. And there’s workers out there who say, ‘This isn’t going to happen to me. I’m okay. The time has passed.’ The time doesn’t —— is not going to pass.”
Before the House committee Mr. Alvarez said: “I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11 like me are valued less than anyone else because of when they get sick. You made me come here the day before my 69th round of chemo. I’m going to make sure that you never forget to take care of the 9/11 responders.”
The next day, though, he was too disoriented to receive treatment. Tests determined that his liver was failing. Within a week, he was admitted to a hospice in Rockville Centre, on Long Island.
Luis Gustavo Alvarez was born in October 1965 in Queens. After graduating in 1983 from Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in the East Elmhurst neighborhood, he served in the Marines and studied at City College of the City University of New York. He joined the New York Police Department in 1990.
Initially assigned to the 108th Precinct in Long Island City, Queens, in 1993, he was transferred to the Narcotics Division and promoted to detective two years later. After working undercover as a detective first grade, he sought a less stressful assignment and, in 2004, volunteered for the Bomb Squad.
Mr. Alvarez was recognized five times for excellent police work. He retired on a disability in 2010. He later worked for the Department of Homeland Security in a less demanding job, retiring when his illness became too debilitating.
His survivors include his mother, Aida; his wife, Lanie Alvarez; his sons, David, Tyler and Ben; and his brothers, Fernando and Phil.
The $7.3 billion September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was opened to emergency responders and their families by the federal government in 2011 to compensate for deaths and illnesses related to toxic exposure from the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001, and the cleanup during the immediate aftermath.
The fund is projected to be depleted at the end of 2020.
“We will reach the point soon, most likely this year,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said this month, “when more will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on 9/11 itself.”
So far, about 21,000 claimants have received some $5 billion. An additional 19,000 or so claims are pending.
To redeem new claims and prevent reductions in prior ones, the House Judiciary Committee endorsed the bill sponsored by Representatives Peter T. King, Republican of Long Island, and Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of Manhattan, to extend the fund for decades. The full House is expected to do so next month.
“I did not want to be anywhere else but ground zero when I was there,” Mr. Alvarez told Congress. He added, though: “Now the 9/11 illnesses have taken many of us, and we are all worried about our children, our spouses and our families and what happens if we are not here.”
On June 26, when emergency medical workers met with Mr. McConnell, one man clasped the senator’s hand; when that man, John Feal, a demolition supervisor who lost part of his foot in an accident at ground zero, released his grip, the senator was holding Mr. Alvarez’s New York City police badge.
“For a New York City police officer to give up his badge, that’s like somebody donating an organ,” Mr. Feal later told CNN, “and Luis wanted the Senate majority leader to understand the importance of this, and to be reminded that people are sick and dying.”
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