WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn (AP/PIX11) — As the funeral bunting was placed at Ladder 119 for the first line of duty death of a firefighter in more that two years, a close firefighting friend remembered Gordon Matthew Ambelas.
"Matt, true to who he is, led these men from the front , his bravery unwavering in his efforts to find and save lives," Eric Bischoff, a fellow firefighter and friend of the victim said.
"He died a hero. That's how he lived. We will never forget him.," Bischoff added, holding back tears.
Ambelas, a 14-year FDNY veteran who had been promoted to lieutenant last September, died in a two alarm fire on Wilson Street, pulled from the 19th floor of a high-rise.
An FDNY investigation into the fire indicated the blaze was started by an air conditioner electrical cord, which was pinched between a bed frame and the wall of an apartment.
The apartment where the fire originated was heavily cluttered, according to investigators.
"Lieutenant Ambelas died doing what fire officers do," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said, "leading firefighters in the search for life.
"We lost a real hero tonight and our hearts are heavy," Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the 14-year veteran of the force. "I ask every New Yorker to keep the lieutenant in their prayers."
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters that Ambelas sustained multiple injuries after he went into an apartment on fire to look for victims. He was found unconscious inside of the apartment and was removed by fellow firefighters, de Blasio said.
"Ambelas went into the apartment to search for life and did not come out, and by the time his brother firefighters found him, it was too late for him," Nigro said.
It is the department's first line of duty death since Lt. Richard A. Nappi was killed fighting a Brooklyn warehouse blaze in April 2012. Ambelas is the 18th to die since 343 firefighters perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A police officer, Dennis Guerra, died in April after he and his partner were overcome by smoke and carbon monoxide while responding to a mattress fire on the 13th floor of a Coney Island public housing complex.
Guerra's partner, Rosa Rodriguez, is recovering after more than a month in the hospital.
Ambelas, a married father of two daughters from Staten Island, was among the firefighters honored last month for helping to save a 7-year-old boy who became trapped in a roll-down gate in May. The boy was pulled 15 feet off the ground when his arm and head got stuck.
Ambelas said at the time that the incident "shows that FDNY members are always ready to help others. It was great teamwork all around."
He was promoted to lieutenant just 10 months ago.
The fire broke out around 9:30 p.m. Saturday in an apartment on the 19th floor of the building that is part of the six-building Independence Towers complex owned by the New York City Housing Authority. It quickly went to a second-alarm as flames spread to the 17th and 18th floors.
Two other firefighters were treated at Bellevue Hospital for minor injuries. Two residents received treatment at the scene for minor injuries.
On the street in Staten Island where Ambelas lived with his wife and two young daughters, he was remembered as a hero as well.
"He was a great person, an angel, he's a hero gone to heaven," neighbor Yvonne Rogers told PIX11, fighting back tears.
"I can't say no more, it hurts too much," Rogers added.
Lt. Ambelas' wake will be held at the Casey McCallum Rice Funeral home, located at 30 Nelson Ave. on Staten Island on Tuesday and Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
The funeral will be held Thursday at St. Clare's Church, located at 110 Nelson Avenue on Staten Island on Thursday.
A fund for Ambelas' two daughters, 8 and 5, has been established.
Donations can be mailed to:
The FDNY Foundation
9 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn NY 11201.
Checks should be made to the "Ambelas Children's Education Fund" and mailed to the address above.