Veteran Firefighter Dies Battling Brooklyn Blaze

The 40-year-old is the department's first line-of-duty death in more than two years

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    A New York City fire lieutenant died after becoming trapped in a blaze as he searched for victims on an upper floor of a Brooklyn public housing high-rise. Michael George reports. (Published Monday, Jul 7, 2014)

    A New York City fire lieutenant died after becoming trapped in a blaze as he searched for victims on an upper floor of a Brooklyn public housing high-rise.

    Lt. Gordon "Matt" Ambelas, a 14-year veteran of the FDNY, died at a hospital late Saturday after he was pulled from the building unconscious, officials said.

    The fire, which was ruled accidental, started in an air conditioner electrical cord pinched between a bed frame and a wall, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement Sunday afternoon. Conditions were considered extremely dangerous because the apartment was extremely cluttered, he said.

    "Lt. Ambelas died doing what fire officers do, leading firefighters in search for life," Nigro said.

    The fire broke out on Wilson Street in Williamsburg at around 9:30 p.m. Saturday in the Independence Towers complex. It quickly went to a second-alarm as flames spread from a 19th-floor apartment to the 17th and 18th floors.

    Ambelas became trapped in a bedroom when the flames suddenly spread. He was pronounced dead at Woodhull Medical Center just after 11 p.m.

    Mayor de Blasio called Ambelas a "real hero."

    "We're all very fortunate to have the men and women of FDNY at the ready to risk their own lives so that each and every one of us can be safe. ... We all mourn his loss," de Blasio 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.

    Ambelas, a 40-year-old married father of two daughters, ages 8 and 5, 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 his action "shows that FDNY members are always ready to help others. It was great teamwork all around."

    The Staten Island resident assisted with recovery efforts in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Years later, he worked during Hurricane Sandy.

    After Saturday's blaze, two other firefighters were treated at Bellevue Hospital for minor injuries. Two residents received treatment at the scene for minor injuries. 

    A funeral for Ambelas is planned for Thursday, fire officials say. The FDNY is also accepting donations at its headquarters in Brooklyn, asking that checks be made out to the "Ambelas Children's Education Fund."

    --Michael George contributed reporting

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