Heroic 9/11 first responder Det. Luis Alvarez and his family were honored on Tuesday with a Key to the City that he fought so hard protecting until his death this summer from cancer linked to the 2001 terror attacks.
“Luis Alvarez loved this city,” Philip Alvarez said, explaining his brother would want him to mention “all those souls and bodies that went down there to help that day.”
“There were many Luis Alvarezes that fought for the men and women and the citizens of this city,” Philip Alvarez said after his brother’s widow Alaine Parker Alvarez tearfully accepted the key from Mayor de Blasio.
Alvarez, who died at 53, became the face of the city’s ailing 9/11 first responders in June after testifying before Congress alongside comedian and advocate Jon Stewart about illnesses ravaging them from working at Ground Zero.
“This is a man who made a huge difference for everyone,” de Blasio said. “We can honor him in a way that few people have been honored in the history of this city – because he belongs in that pantheon.”
A retired bomb squad detective, Alvarez toiled for three months in the ruins of the World Trade Center and went through nearly 70 rounds of chemotherapy since 2016, when he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver.
Alvarez, Stewart and other first responders went to Washington D.C. in June to pressure federal lawmakers into passing permanent legislation to compensate first responders and victims during an emotional hearing in June.
“His strength was so inspirational and gave us all such a feeling of resilience,” Stewart said during the key ceremony. “He shrugged it off like it was nothing.”
Stewart said he could tell Alvarez was hurting the day of the testimony. But he still told Stewart, “I just want to make sure the job is done for everybody else.”
Alvarez never got to see the legislation become permanent.
A few weeks after he died, President Trump signed the "Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act,” named after him and other first responders who succumbed to illnesses from to their time working in the rubble after the twin towers collapsed.
Alvarez was helping 9/11 first responders and victims even before his emotional testimony. After he was diagnosed with cancer, Alvarez posted on Facebook encouraging others to get screened and reach out to him for help, Stewart said.
“This guy was saving lives,” Stewart said. “Luis Alvarez represented the quiet heroism of acting compassionately…everything else was just a function of that ethos.”
De Blasio presented his family with a Key to the City during a ceremony at City Hall that was delayed after the mayor rushed to Staten Island Tuesday morning when a cop was shot.
The $100 gold-plated key, presented in a velvet box, symbolizes the city’s wish that recipients are always welcome in New York.
The mayor announced he would give Alvarez the key after pressure from another first responder, longtime advocate John Feal, who went on CNN to call on de Blasio to make the gesture.
Feal lost part of his foot when a steal beam fell on him doing cleanup work as a demolition supervisor on Sept. 17, 2001. He said he usually spends the anniversary “feeling sorry” for himself but now can share the day with Alvarez.
After the legislation was passed, Feal told first responders and his team to put down their swords, go home and pick up rakes and grow something with their families.
“Luis put down his sword, but he didn’t get a chance to pick up a rake,” Feal said.