A veteran firefighter recently honored for his rescue efforts died searching for victims in a Brooklyn high-rise fire sparked by an electrical cord pinched between a bedframe and a wall, FDNY officials said Sunday.
Lt. Gordon Matthew Ambelas, 40, a 14-year veteran from Staten Island, is the first FDNY line-of-duty death in more than two years, officials said.
Ambelas was searching for victims late Saturday night on the 19th floor of the Independence Towers public housing complex in Williamsburg when he became trapped in a debris-cluttered bedroom and the fire "flashed over" him, said officials with the FDNY and Mayor Bill de Blasio's office.
The flames burst after they were exposed to oxygen, possibly introduced by the opening of a door, the FDNY said.
The fire was accidental and caused by the pinched electrical cord from an air conditioning unit, but an investigation is ongoing, FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said. The New York City Housing Authority said it is cooperating with the investigation, but would not say what fire-prevention measures were in place. Two other firefighters and two civilians were treated for minor injuries.
Last month, Ambelas was recognized after he saved a 7-year-old Brooklyn boy in May whose head and arm became trapped in a roll-down gate. Afterward, he gave credit to his colleagues, saying their actions showed "that FDNY members are always ready to help others. It was great teamwork all around."
Sunday, Ambela's fire department colleagues, community members from around his Williamsburg firehouse and city officials mourned his death. He leaves behind his wife, Nanette, and two daughters, ages 4 and 8.
"We have lost a real hero . . . and our hearts are heavy," de Blasio said at a news conference at Woodhull Medical Center, where Ambelas was pronounced dead late Saturday night.
He and Nigro met with Ambelas' wife. The mayor said she is distraught and heartbroken.
Members of Ambelas' unit, Ladder Company No. 119, hung black-and-purple bunting above their station's entryway. Dozens of firefighters stood and silently honored him Sunday.
Nigro said Ambelas had "an enormous love for his job and our mission to help and save others."
Ambelas, known to friends as Matt, was found unconscious Saturday night by firefighters and EMS personnel, who tried to resuscitate him, officials said. About 100 firefighters responded to the blaze at the 21-story building. The fire was under control in about an hour.
In a statement, family members of Mendy Gotlieb, the boy Ambelas saved last month, called him a "savior."
"He literally sacrificed his life for others," they said. "I hope that his family finds solace in the so many lives that are living on because of him."
Rabbi David Niederman, of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said Ambelas' death just 10 days after he was honored was saddening.
"Lt. Ambelas' memory will live on in Mendy and the many others he saved, and of course in the precious family he's leaving behind," he said.
Other members of Williamsburg's ultra-Orthodox Jewish Satmar community stopped by the firehouse to offer condolences to Ambelas' colleagues.
Across the street, at the headquarters of a Satmar congregation, signs hung reading "R.I.P."
The last FDNY member to die in the line of duty was Lt. Richard Nappi, a Farmingville resident who was killed in April 2012.
With Alison Fox