Born in Cuba, Alvarez emigrated to the U.S. as a child, and after high school served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Once released from the service, he continued in public service: he joined the New York Police Department in 1990. After being promoted to Detective and working in narcotics, including undercover, he decided to do something “less stressful” — he volunteered for the Bomb Squad. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks hit New York, Alvarez responded to the scene. He worked there for three months, first looking for survivors, and then trying to find the remains of other first responders who were killed, so they could be identified and laid to rest. For his trouble, Alvarez was stricken with cancer, which was linked to his exposure to the toxic debris of the World Trade Center buildings. He retired early from the NYPD in 2010.
Alvarez’s name might sound familiar to you: earlier this month he testified before Congress in a heartfelt plea to remember the first responders who dropped everything and ran toward the World Trade Center to help, as everyone else was trying their best to get away. “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,” he told a House Judiciary subcommittee in Washington on June 11, asking for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to be fully funded. “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.” Since Alvarez was on duty on 9/11, he had the health care he needed — but many others didn’t, he said, and that’s who he was fighting for. “I’m lucky to have the health care that I’ve got, but there are guys out there who don’t have it,” he said outside the committee hearing. “In terms of going through the stress of fighting cancer, they’re also fighting the financial stress of the health care.” And he had no regrets: “I did not want to be anywhere else but ground zero when I was there,” Alvarez told the subcommittee. But, “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.” He also pointed out the Ground Zero responders were lied to. “We were told the air was safe down there and it wasn’t,” Alvarez said. “But you know what, that doesn’t matter. Because we would have went in anyway. Because that’s what we do. It’s not a job for us. It’s a calling.” It turns out he never did his 69th round of chemotherapy: his liver was shutting down, and he instead went into care in a hospice on New York’s Long Island.
But Alvarez made one more statement from there: he sent something to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell through his friend John Feal, a supervisor at Ground Zero. When Feal shook McConnell’s hand, he left something in the Senator’s hand: Alvarez’s police badge. “For a New York City police officer to give up his badge,” Feal said afterward, “that’s like somebody donating an organ, and Luis wanted the Senate majority leader to understand the importance of this, and to be reminded that people are sick and dying.” Three days later, on June 29, Alvarez died in the hospice. Despite appearing to be in his 80s, that was just the cancer ravaging his body: he was only 53.
Author’s Note: Alvarez posted this on Facebook about 10 weeks before he died, and it’s pasted here with minor edits for clarity. The original is at the link:
April 5, 2019
I’m sitting here in my den with the lights turned low, no TV on, just watching my fish swim around in their tank. I start doing a little thinking.
1) Did your alarm not go off this morning and you were late for work? So what? The boss might give you a 5 minute dress down and maybe put you in the minor violations log. Thank God you have a job.
2) Did you get a flat tire today? So what? Put on the spare and be on your way. Thank God you have a car and don’t have to ride the bus.
3) Did you spill coffee on your uniform shirt today because your partner braked suddenly? So what? Thank God he did and you didn’t get into an accident. Go back to command and change your shirt or ride around all day smelling like coffee.
4) Did your child come home from school with a failed test? So what? Don’t yell at them, it won’t raise their grade. Get them a tutor or sit down with them and help them study. Thank God they have the opportunity to go to school Some kids don’t.
5) Did you ever come home from work starving for dinner and your spouse burnt the meatloaf? So what? Order a pizza or make a PB&J sandwich. Thank God you have food on your table. Some people don’t know where or when their next meal is coming from.
6) Did an unexpected bill come in the mail this month and you don’t have the money to pay it? So what? Pay it next month. They are not going to take your home over a missed payment. Again Thank God you have a job and it will eventually get paid.
7) Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer? Well then say a prayer to the Lord to give you strength, courage and the fortitude to fight the disease. Then you put your warrior face on, pick up your sword and shield, and you scorch the earth looking until you find that bitch. Then you battle that bitch as if you’re the only thing standing between it and your family standing behind you, which they are. After you’re done sending that beast back to hell where it belongs, you can sit down and take a breath and say to yourself, “Hey you know what? Life isn’t that bad.” Just some food for thought.